Rangers' pitching may be even better in 2012
Despite loss of Wilson, other moves have bolstered depth
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Can a team lose its No. 1 starter and still maintain the overall quality of its rotation?
If that team is the 2012 Texas Rangers, the answer is yes. Or certainly. Or of course.
Yes, C.J. Wilson has not only departed through free agency, he has gone to the primary opposition, the Angels. Wilson is coming off the best season of his career. This is at once a consequential loss for the Rangers and a substantial gain for the Angels.
But the Rangers have done more than taking a stab at compensating for this departure. This is no time for half-measures for a team that has won the last two American League pennants. The Rangers have made two significant additions to the rotation -- the phenom from Japanese baseball, Yu Darvish, and their closer of the last two years, the supremely gifted Neftali Feliz.
In the remainder of the rotation, two young left-handers, Derek Holland and Matt Harrison, took major steps forward last season. Colby Lewis has been a source of stability for the Texas rotation, particularly in the postseason.
And there is admirable depth here. Scott Feldman, a 17-game winner in 2009, appears to be all the way back after knee surgery. Hard-throwing Alexi Ogando proved his worth as a reliever in 2010, then demonstrated that he was a Major League starter in 2011.
Add it all up and, even without Wilson, this does not appear to be a group that is suffering a collective decline. In fact, there is an argument that could be made on the other side of the issue. With continued improvement from the young pitchers, maybe the Texas rotation could even be better in 2012.
Sitting in a practice-field dugout behind Surprise Stadium on Sunday, Rangers manager Ron Washington approached this topic with suitable enthusiasm and optimism.
"If our young kids continue to grow -- it's important that they continue to grow and don't go backwards -- we will certainly hold our own," Washington said. "Name-wise, you put them up against some of those rotations out there, maybe we don't compare. But result-wise, I think we will be fine. I'm certainly looking forward to them continuing their growth. And the addition of Darvish will certainly help. That will replace what we lost in C.J.
"We should continue to move forward. We don't doubt that. Colby showed that he's coming around [with four perfect innings on Saturday]. Feldman has got his sink back and his cut back on his fastball, and he's getting his ground balls. Neftali is moving along. Holland and Harrison have shown that they haven't missed a beat, yet. And Darvish had a very good first outing. So we're certainly very positive about what we have to go into the season with. And we've just got to hope that we stay healthy."
Beyond the obvious ability, the other plus with the young Rangers pitchers is that they have already pitched at the highest possible level: two postseasons, including two World Series.
"The Harrisons, the Hollands, the Ogandos, the Neftalis, they were young, and they had a chance to pitch into the postseason two years, back to back, and understand what it's like to compete," Washington said. "And I think that's a good advantage for us to have. They've been there and done that."
There has been a world-class amount of attention focused on Darvish this spring; understandably so. A blend of intense curiosity and varying expectations will accompany him into the regular season. But the signing of free-agent closer Joe Nathan has also been essential. The acquisition of Nathan has freed up Feliz to enter the starting rotation. Nathan is two years removed from Tommy John surgery. Asked if Nathan had returned to the form that resulted in six dominant seasons as a closer for the Twins, Washington replied:
The Rangers tried Feliz in the rotation during Spring Training in 2011, but dropped the idea because the move would have left them with uncertainty regarding the closer's role. But this year, they have Nathan in the closer's role.
"Last spring, we experimented with Neffie starting, but we weren't protected in the back end of the bullpen," Washington said. "The first thing [general manager] Jon [Daniels] did this winter was get us some protection in the back end of the bullpen, so we could make this move with Neftali. And I think he made a great choice in Joe Nathan. And more than that, Joe Nathan wanted to be in Texas."
The Rangers have been a run-producing operation for some time. But the last two seasons, when their pitching became a strength rather than an issue, they became the class of the AL. They were third in the AL in runs scored last year, and fifth in team earned run average.
The overall quality of that pitching, relative to the rest of the league and even without Wilson, should be maintained.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.