Curses of Spring

Injury woes saddle Texas Rangers with unusual opening day and challenging 2014 season

Injury woes saddle Texas Rangers with unusual lineup for opening day

Leonys Martin hits a homerun for the Texas Rangers
Leonys Martin is one of the few healthy Rangers. Texas Rangers/Facebook
Yu Darvish pitches for the Texas Rangers
Cy Young finalist Yu Darvish will start the season on the disabled list.
Texas Rangers Walkoff
The Rangers hope 2014 will bring opportunities to celebrate. Texas Rangers/Facebook
Texas Rangers 2014 schedule
The Texas Rangers will have to get creative to stay competitive this season. Photo courtesy of Texas Rangers
Leonys Martin hits a homerun for the Texas Rangers
Yu Darvish pitches for the Texas Rangers
Texas Rangers Walkoff
Texas Rangers 2014 schedule

The Texas Rangers have become a trendy pick to win the American League and, by extension, play in what would be their third World Series in five years. The Sporting News picked the Rangers to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers and win their first title.

With the additions of Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo to an already potent roster, it wasn’t hard for national publications to hop on the bandwagon six weeks ago when spring training started.

But what about now, as the Rangers prepare for opening day against Philadelphia? That bandwagon has probably lost some passengers after what might qualify as the Rangers’ worst spring training in recent memory.

 Baseball is a 162-game marathon. A great start isn’t necessary to win a division title.

What went wrong? Well, how much time do you have?

Pitcher Derek Holland needed microfracture surgery on his left knee in January after tripping over his dog. He’s out until midseason.

If that sounds absurd, then you probably didn’t hear about pitcher Matt Harrison, who is rebounding from surgery for a herniated disc that caused him to miss most of last year. He re-aggravated his back and missed most of spring training after sleeping on a cheap mattress. But at least he could be back in another week.

Same goes for Yu Darvish, the presumed opening day starting pitcher and a Cy Young finalist last year. The Rangers scratched him after he complained of a stiff neck after his last spring training start. There is no structural damage in his neck, and Darvish will start the season on the disabled list, but at least it’s not a long-term injury. For now.

You can’t say the same for second baseman Jurickson Profar, the highly rated prospect who was to be Ian Kinsler’s full-time replacement. Profar is out three months with a slight muscle tear in his right shoulder. Same goes for catcher Geovany Soto, who is done for three months with a torn meniscus.

Is that everyone? Oh, I almost forgot. Pitcher Colby Lewis isn’t quite ready after hip replacement surgery and will star the year in the minors. Yes, that’s right. Hip replacement surgery. He’s only 34 years old.

These injuries have ripple effects throughout the roster. Pitcher Tanner Scheppers, a reliever last year, will make his first Major League start on opening day. He’s the first pitcher in more than three decades to make his first Major League start and first opening day start on the same day. Martin Perez is the only rotation holdover from last year.

Joining them is Robbie Ross, who like Scheppers is a converted reliever; Joe Saunders, a veteran retread pitching for his fifth different team in five years; and Nick Martinez, a Rangers prospect with just four minor-league starts above class A.

If that doesn’t concern you, then perhaps this will. Soto’s replacement in the everyday starting lineup will be J.P. Arencibia. He’s a fifth-year vet who averages 23 home runs and 171 strikeouts per 162 games and sports a lifetime batting average of .212. Arencibia’s backup is Robinson Chirinos. He’s played 33 Major League games.

Profar’s backup? Um, good question. It’s probably Adam Rosales, whose batting average is a scintillating .219. Or it could be Donnie Murphy, whom the Rangers claimed off waivers last week. He has a career .215 batting average.

You get the picture. These injuries are serious issues.

The past two years the Rangers have gotten off to terrific starts. The Rangers went 17-9 in April of last season and 17-6 in April 2012, two of the best Aprils on record for the Rangers. It’s difficult to see the Rangers having a similar April in 2014.

But a great start isn’t necessary to win a division title — nor is a great start indicative of winning a division title, as the Rangers have proven the past two seasons.

Baseball is a 162-game marathon. What manager Ron Washington must ensure is this tidal wave of injuries doesn’t put the Rangers way behind early in the season. That will require all of his skill as a manager, in terms of putting together the right lineup every day. Players like Fielder, Choo, Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus are givens. It’s the bottom of the order where Washington must work some magic.

Darvish and Harrison should be back soon. Lewis could be back by May. Holland, Profar and Soto by July, if all goes well. The point of the next three months for the Rangers that remain is to make sure there’s a playoff hunt to return to.