Is Big Game Colby Back?

Pitcher Colby Lewis looks at home on Texas Rangers mound

Pitcher Colby Lewis looks at home on Texas Rangers mound

Colby Lewis of the Texas Rangers
Colby Lewis is back on the mound for the Rangers after a long stint on the disabled list. Texas Rangers/Facebook

How do the Texas Rangers celebrate a guy’s first win in 22 months? Even Ron Washington wasn’t sure what the appropriate reaction was to Colby Lewis’ win over the Chicago White Sox on April 19.

“I’m more than certain the guys in that clubhouse might have bathed him in something,” Washington joked. Any celebration for Lewis is well-deserved, given his extended absence due to injuries.

Even the crowd at Globe Life Park knew the significance of Lewis’ presence in the Rangers’ rotation as he walked off the field in the sixth inning. The fans gave him a standing ovation.

 From 2010-12, no Rangers starter was more consistent or more durable than Lewis, who earned the nickname Big Game Colby.

“That was pretty nice. They respect Colby and he deserves that respect,” Washington said. As Lewis takes to the mound on Saturday against Seattle, his importance in the Rangers’ rotation has two levels. First, there’s his own personal road back.

From 2010-12, no Rangers starter was more consistent or more durable than Lewis, who seemed to eat up innings and win big games. During the Rangers’ run to two straight World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011, he earned the nickname Big Game Colby.

After his last game of 2012 against Oakland on July 18, Lewis had surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his right elbow. The expectation was that Lewis would be back in about a year. He got as far as the minors in 2013, making a few rehab starts before he underwent hip resurfacing surgery on August 22, 2013.

Two major surgeries in two years for a 34-year old pitcher is usually a bad combination, especially when one of them involves his pitching arm. The Rangers brought Lewis back on a minor-league deal for 2014 and faced an April 11 deadline to activate him or potentially lose him. Lewis probably wasn’t completely ready to return, but with Derek Holland and Matt Harrison on the disabled list, the Rangers had little choice but to roll the dice.

That’s the other reason Lewis’ return is significant: The Rangers desperately need a veteran arm.

So Lewis must improve on the job, which isn’t ideal but necessary. His second start against Chicago was much sharper than his debut against Seattle. Lewis went the same five and one-third innings against Chicago, but he only gave up six hits, struck out four and walked one, his first walk in two starts. He only allowed a run. Plus, he escaped a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the second inning.

“My pitches were a lot more productive,’’ Lewis told reporters after the game. “It’s definitely an improvement, and that’s what I want.’’

Washington admitted Lewis could have gone longer, but with Adam Dunn coming to the plate in the sixth, he wanted to bring a power-throwing lefty to the hill to face the White Sox’s top home-run hitter. Washington was also conscious of what a big hit could do to Lewis’ attitude.

“We had a lead and Dunn coming up,” Washington said. “I just didn’t want a mistake to happen right there, and if [Dunn] hits a lefty, I can live with that. [Lewis] could have stayed out there.”

Chances are the Rangers will stretch Lewis out over time as he builds up his endurance. Don’t expect a jump in his velocity, but if his off-speed pitches remain as sharp as they have historically then Lewis can remain effective.

That’s all the Rangers really expect from Lewis right now: effectiveness. “I don’t want him to come out here and believe he has to prove anything to anyone except to himself,” said Washington. “He doesn’t have to prove anything to me.”

But if he kept pitching like he had something to prove, it wouldn’t hurt.