Things are certainly shaping up in Suprise. One of them is Hank Blalock, who practically single-handedly beat the Mariners last night, going 4-4 with 3 RBI. That included a first-inning 2-run homer off Miguel Bautista, and an RBI single later in the 7th inning off lefty Eric O’Flaherty. And all this after "The Hammer" apparently put on an impressive show in batting practice earlier. Save some for opening day, will ya Hank? Other offensive highlights included Milton Bradley (making his first appreance in RF this spring) who tripled in the first inning and scored, and Ian Kinsler, who popped an RBI double in the 5th.
But in more significant news, the Rangers put the rubber stamp on some roster decisions yesterday. One at least, was no surprise, as CJ Wilson, everyone’s favorite blue-gloved lefty, has officially been annointed the Rangers closer. I’m sure it must have killed Ron Washington to make the announcement: "It’s down to the point where he’s shown me enough and that he’s healthy," Washington said. "I just didn’t want anybody taking anything for granted. He’s thrown the ball well. He’s the obvious choice." Really Ron? Are you sure he has the "experience"?
Another announcement that perhaps was seen in the crystal ball was the fact that Jason Botts has offically made the club. I’m glad the club has finally given Jason a certain vote of confidence here, as he gets a fairly ringing endorsement from Jon Daniels:
"He has always been a productive hitter except his limited time in the big leagues," Daniels said. "We like the way he’s gone about it this spring. He is better defensively in the outfield, solid at first base and a right-handed option at [DH]. He has played the game more aggressively and looked more comfortable."
I’m still not sure exactly how many at-bats he’s going to get though, as once again, Ron Washington doesn’t seem to enthusiastic about this decision, either:
"That was a hard decision to make," Washington said. "Botts just did what we asked him to do. His game has improved. He worked hard on his game and showed he could improve. He’s somebody the Texas Rangers had high hopes for, so we’ll see what he can do."
Notice how Ron says "He’s somebody the Texas Rangers had high hopes for, so we’ll see what he can do." Based on that, I can only assume Ron doesn’t share the same sentiments – and unfortunately, he’s the one who’ll be doling out the playing time. Sigh.
The news was not as good for Nelson Cruz, though. It’s also noted in that article that he has been told he’s not making the club. This means he’ll have to clear waivers if he’s to be sent to AAA. Daniels isn’t nearly as charitable in his statements regarding Cruz:
"[Cruz is] just [missing] the consistency at the plate," Daniels said. "He’s a very good defender and shows the obvious physical abilities. In the role of competing for an everyday job, he just hasn’t proven himself."
He’s also 28, just a year younger than Milton Bradley, too old to be considered a "prospect" anymore. And with his lack of offensive production on the field (.231 AVG, .282 OBP, and 119 K’s to 30 BB’s in 442 career AB’s) over multiple chances the last two years, it appears Texas is ready to cut bait with Cruz. And that’s not something I’m really dissapointed about, either – the athletic potential has always been there for Nelson, but he’s just never been able to put it all together. He’ll likely be picked up by another team off waivers and given another shot, but I wouldn’t say it’s premature to file Cruz under the list of Texas experiments who have just never panned out (e.g., Laynce Nix, Marshall McDougal, Ricardo Rodriguez, John Koronka, ext).
Turning back to the bullpen, things are heating up in the competition for those final spots. Franklyn German and Jamey Wright have officially been told they have made the bullpen, leaving just two spots left. Frank Francisco has been sent to the minors, and is out of the picture for now, leaving Wes Littleton, Robinson Tejeda, Josh Rupe and Kam Loe as the candidates. Tejeda seems to have the inside track on one spot thanks to his lack of minor league options (although he didn’t impress the Rangers when he coughed up a triple and a walkofff single with 2 out in the bottom of the 9th inning agains the Cubs Monday). Wes Littleton is favored for the other spot, but Josh Rupe, who tossed two scoreless innings against the Mariners last night, is still lurking as well. Both of them have minor league options, and would likely be sent down to AAA come April 12th when the 5th starter is needed.
It should be noted, though, that the Rangers will have to do some juggling on the 40 man roster with the decisions they are making: Jamey Wright and Franklyn German are both on minor league contracts, and will need to be added to he 40-man roster. Those two spots will likely be opened by the DFA’ing of Nelson Cruz, and by putting John Rheinecker, who is out till mid-season after thoratic outlet syndrom surgery, on the 60-day DL.
But then there’s Adam Melhuse, who would be the clubs backup catcher if Jarrod Saltalamacchia is sent to AAA. He could probably be added by putting Thomas Diamond on the 60-day DL, but it’s still an interesting situation, because the Rangers haven’t made an official decision between Salty and Gerald Laird at catcher (something Fort Worth Star-Telegram writer Jim Reeves has recently written an excellent piece on). The general feeling is, Laird will be the starter, and Salty will be sent to AAA (the scenario Salty seems to be reluctantly bracing for). But the Rangers have all of a sudden become strangely silent and noncommital about the whole thing all over again. And Gerald Laird hasn’t started behind the plate since Saturday.
Maybe I’m reading too far into this, because I’m willing to cling to any shred of hope that I will not have to watch Gerald Laird spare up the offense for half the season, but maybe, just maybe, the Rangers are second guessing themselves on this. Will they come to their senses? We’ll have to wait and see. But if they do, it will be the best news of spring training.
Just one last order of business, and I will end this marathon post: the Kansas City Royals don’t have a lot of star players. But one of their guys, at least, has a pretty unique talent: check out Joey Gathright and his pitcher jumping! Could this be baseball’s 6th tool?