Struggles, frustrations come all at once for Texas Rangers

Mound meetings are becoming all too frequent during the Rangers' recent pitching woes. (AP photo)

Through the first few weeks of the 2011 Major League Baseball season, the Texas Rangers looked every bit like the defending American League Champions. In fact, they looked better than the team who made it to the World Series in 2010.

Two weeks later, they are without team MVP Josh Hamilton for the better part of two months with a small fracture in his right shoulder and their young closer, Neftali Feliz, who was put on the 15-day disabled list with tightness in his pitching shoulder.

Without Hamilton, the rest of the offense began to struggle. Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz, Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre all seemed to have lost their stroke. The only one who still had it, Michael Young, was a player the Rangers almost traded before the start of the season.

There is the occasional game where the offensive power stroke re-emerges and the Rangers go on a home run binge. Then there are nights where they can’t seem to get much going at all and struggle to drive runs in.

However, the on and off nights for the offense isn’t the biggest concern for manager Ron Washington. The struggles of his bullpen and his rotation have left some wondering if this team needs to make a move sooner rather than later.

Most will tell you there won’t be a possible trade until the deadline at the end of July. I’m not sure the they can wait that long.

With Feliz out, Washington has turned to aging pitchers Arthur Rhodes and Darren Oliver to assume the closing duties. On top of that, Washington probably wonders if veteran pitcher Brett Tomko is going to hold down the fort or implode from one night to the next. Mark Lowe was sent to the minors because he couldn’t get anyone out and Darren O’Day’s continued struggles with command have also reared their ugly head.

So what is Washington to do?

First, he should stomp into general manager Jon Daniel’s office and say a simple, “thanks for nothing,” or he can try to put things together the best way he can to try and stop the bleeding.

Through the first month of the season, aside from the Red Sox and Orioles, the Rangers’ pitching has struggled against the best the American League East has to offer, losing two of three to the New York Yankees and dropping the first two of a three-game set to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Four losses in five games really can’t be blamed on the lack of offense after scoring 17 runs over those five games. It has been the pitching rotation, aside from the ace C.J. Wilson, that can’t seem to figure out how to get the job done against teams that could play a major role in their playoff lives down the stretch.

Alexi Ogando, untouchable before making his very first start against the Yankees, would give up three home runs in just over six innings of work. His offense gave Ogando the lead twice, and he coughed it up both times.

Another starter who has yet to have even a decent start is Colby Lewis. Through four starts (22.0 IP), Lewis has given up 17 earned runs, eight of which have been of the long-ball variety.

Derek Holland, a young pitcher Rangers fans watched struggle in the World Series, has only been effective a few times so far this season. After winning his first two starts of the season, giving up just three combined runs over 12 complete innings of work, Holland has given up 10 earned runs over his next two starts (14.2 IP) including three home runs.

Then there’s Matt Harrison. He looked like a star in the making. A young pitcher who Rangers fans loved to watch, Harrison was a guy fans knew would take the ball every fifth day and get their team a win. It all came to a screeching halt on a Tuesday night against the Blue Jays. He lasted just three innings and was hammered for seven earned runs.

There are more questions than answers with this team. Three of their starters are struggling, they are missing one of their best hitters and they are missing their closer. While most teams would not make a trade this early in the season, maybe it’s time for Daniels and team owner Nolan Ryan to look into their minor league system to see if there is anyone who can help them get through the rough patches.

If you listen closely, you might just hear the name Tanner Scheppers through the halls of Rangers Ballpark. He is the Rangers’ best pitching prospect and a young man who has received a ton of hype and praise from the franchise. Assuming things do not change soon, Scheppers might see the big leagues sooner than he realizes.

Luckily for the Rangers, the AL West isn’t the strongest division in the American League or in baseball, for that matter. They should have enough to stay afloat until both Feliz and Hamilton return.

Once they are at full strength, they might be a hard team to catch.

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