DAY 1

His inning was innocuous. Four batters. Three outs. Twelve pitches. The velocity was down from the norm, but it often is for pitchers their first few times on the mound in Spring Training games.

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Though, whenever anyone leaves a game prior to their scheduled departure–for Yu, it was two innings or 35 pitches, whichever came first–it is worth an eyebrow raise, at a minimum. When it is your ace–a uniquely talented phenom coveted by anyone with a clue–it is worth a stomach curl, at a minimum.

We then learn that his early exit was due to triceps tightness. Phew. Sigh of relief. Triceps is not elbow or shoulder.

Next was his media gathering where, through his translator, some through his own English, and all through his raw emotion and disposition, he conveyed a calmness that suggested that we not worry. He laughed and smiled and joked. He joked! He even acknowledged it.

Speaking in English, Darvish smiled: “It was good, right?” referring to his performance. “I’m not disappointed in anything. If I was disappointed I couldn’t make a joke.”

Re-typing that makes me cringe.

DAY 2

The beginning of the next day was much of the same. He walked through the clubhouse with a normal-sized wrap and a smile on his face–the same smile we rarely saw in the past, but saw so much of so far this Spring. He said he felt good–specifically, he said he felt better than the day before.

But he hadn’t had an MRI yet.

During the game I noticed the absence of Thad Levine and Jon Daniels from their usual watching spot, but thought little of it. Shame on me, perhaps.

No further information was provided to us that day on Darvish, but we weren’t necessarily expecting anything either.

That night the team went to a dinner for suite-holders and other bigwigs. I later learned that Darvish wasn’t there.

Probably not a good sign.

But I went about my night, watching the Mavericks game and enjoying a great talk about the history of film with Jeff “Skin” Wade.

DAY 3

With the team’s first true road trip (they were visitors in Surprise with their Spring Training bunkmates, Kansas City, on Thursday), the clubhouse opened at 7:30 a.m. Like other members of the media, I spoke to some folks, exchanging a laugh with Shin-Soo Choo and talking about crossword puzzles with Keone Kela, Spencer Patton, and Nick Martinez.

Curiously, though, there was no information about daily “injury report,” frequently delivered by Assistant GM Thad Levine.

Again, not a good sign.

We were then alerted it was coming…in the tent.

NOT THE TENT!!!!!

The tent was reserved for press-conference style gatherings or in the event of rain. It was for the important stuff.

As we gathered in the tents, we were delivered the bad news through a release read by the team’s VP of Communications, John Blake.

Shortly thereafter, Jon Daniels came in and regurgitated the news, proceeding to answer questions.

Jeff Banister did the same.

The future is unknown, though it certainly does not look good for 2015.

So, What’s Next?

Jon Daniels communicated that Yu Darvish has three options moving forward:

1) Pitch through the injury and the discomfort.

2) Rest and rehab, re-evaluating the injury at the appropriate time.

3) Tommy John surgery.

Option 1 is virtually not an option at all. While Jon Daniels emphasized that this is Yu’s decision, I can’t imagine they’d support that one without debate. It would merely prolong the inevitable of needing Tommy John surgery.

Option 2 leaves a major risk of prolonging the inevitable, too. While it can work, in some cases, it often doesn’t. As far as I’m aware, it’s merely playing with damaged goods.

Option 3 is the most daunting, but the most likely because it is probably the most effective. Surgery means a lost year and likely a part of next year. Tommy John guarantees nothing despite the high success rate to which we are exposed, but it does give Darvish his best opportunity to come back as strong, if not stronger.

So, Who’s Next?

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Before the Darvish injury, the Rangers were searching for one starter to fill their rotation. Now they’re looking for a second.

I thought Ross Detwiler had a leg up on the competition for the fifth starter opening, so I think this makes him a heavy favorite to earn a spot in the rotation.

Jon Daniels, when asked about filling Darvish’s void in presence (and not performance) explained, “First thing’s first, we’re going to look internally.”

Power-ranking the remaining internal candidates for what is now the second and final spot, I think Nick Tepesch is the favorite. He really grew as the year progressed and, frankly, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to give him the shot so the organization to reassess what they have in him moving forward. Am I suggesting this is a give up year? Not in the least. He might be the best suited to help this team get wins this year. He certainly offers enough to justify the spot and not starting someone else’s clock like…

My number-two ranked candidate, Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez. The Darvish makes me extremely confident he will make more than five starts for the Rangers this summer. Does he get that opportuntiy right off the bat? I don’t think so. My guess is that you see what you have with Tepesch before purchasing the youngster’s contract.

Third on the list is Lisalverto Bonilla. Yes, I have him over Nick Martinez, and I’ll explain why a few lines down. Bonilla won all three of his starts last year, becoming the first Rangers player to do so in his first three career starts. Prior to that, Bonilla had just three total starts over his near 200 minor league appearances. Maybe more so than anyone else on this list, his Spring performance can impact his standing in the conversation because there isn’t near the sample on him as a starter as the others.

Nick Martinez impressed me last year. The numbers didn’t show it, but I loved his makeup, poise, and mental toughness. He got beat up but always faced the media with a confident look, said the right things, and, most impressively, continued to improve and make adjustments. But he was rushed to the Majors and I think he’d be best served spending a year in AAA and then returning to Arlington in 2016. I have him below Bonilla because I got the sense the Rangers really wanted to keep him in the minors, barring a spot start here and there, too. But, with that said, circumstances have obviously changed.

Last on the list, ahead of “Other internal options” is Anthony Ranaudo. Why? I just think he has great value as being an Alexi Ogando-like relief pitcher. He has stuff that pops and can be a one-to-two inning guy capable of getting necessary strikeout. However, his two “glittering innings” on Friday, as Eric Nadel so eloquently put it, does leave you wondering if he is capable of giving you more than just two–maybe, say, six?

Trading Places?

One of the first questions I was immediately hit with after the Darvish news was if the Rangers could trade for a top-line starting pitcher.

I don’t think it will happen in March.

It isn’t because guys aren’t available, either. Uncharacteristically for March, there are some impact pitchers getting shopped, including two top-of-the-rotation types, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.

In order to get those guys, though, you must be prepared to sell the farm. While the Rangers have enough minor league talent for a few farms, I don’t think they are willing to act in a cavalier manner for a team that has so many questions lingering.

It isn’t that the Rangers can’t vie for a playoff spot, but there is just so much unknown that making a big play right now seems unwise. If July rolls around and the Rangers are in the mix in need of an arm, revisit it then.

Something Curious

Yu Darvish got a check-up MRI in late November. The results showed he had a “clean” ligament. With continued rest and the proper rehab, that image would suggest that he would be ready to go this year.

When mulling over those details and a few others that point toward the same result (he was entering the year healthy), I wondered about something: Does anyone ever seek a second opinion after receiving good news?

Think about it.

When you go to the doctor and get bad news, often times you might seek a second opinion in hopes of hearing something more favorable. When you go to the doctor and get good news, it is as if the doctor’s word is gospel.

If a doctor can get it wrong when the news is negative, can’t a doctor get it wrong when it is positive, too. Or, if it isn’t about “wrong vs. right,” can’t the doctor’s opinion be off the mark on both sides of the line?

I’m not delivering blame or suggesting someone should, but what if Yu’s “clean” MRI really wasn’t clean? I’m genuinely asking those more in the know if that is possible.

A Little Light

Excuse me, but I’d like to try and shine some positive sunlight amidst these cloudy, gray skies. Would you mind?

Derek Holland is going to have a big year for this team. I have great confidence in that statement. If I believed it strongly before the Yu Darvish injury, I have an even more firm belief of it now.

This is a challenge to a guy who, for my money, is responsible for the best pitching performance in franchise history when he went 8.2 innings in Game 4 of the 2011 World Series versus the Cardinals, a virtual must-win. A Kenny Rogers perfecto and Nolan Ryan’s no-hitters were all great, but they were all in the regular season.

Holland is a leader who, I imagine, sees this as his responsibility to step up for his team, especially after a terrible year when he was virtually helpless due to injury.

I was so impressed with him last year. While answering questions in mid-August after a minor setback with his knee about why it was even worth the trouble of coming back to pitch in a lost year, Holland explained that it pained him to watch his team go through what they went through and not be a part of it and that if they were going to lose, he wanted to lose with them.

It was like if the cool kid in school volunteering to get egged with kids getting picked to stand up for them.

His comments stuck with me and it is that mentality that excites me and gives me confidence in his ability as a leader.

That became more clear walking around the clubhouse this Spring, seeing smiles on the faces of Prince Fielder and Yu Darvish, guys who had been more reserved in the past and Holland’s two locker mates, a clear calculated move. The jovial clubhoue environment is a credit to team DJ Elvis Andrus, but more so, in my opinion, to Derek Holland.

I also think he sees this as an opportunity to show how good he truly is and that he belongs in the discussion of one of the game’s best pitchers.

When he returned last September, he was among baseball’s best pitchers for that month, posting a 1.46 ERA over 37.0 innings, walking just five.

I’m not going to bother you with more numbers or tell you what others say, because this is simply my opinion and I’m willing to go out on a limb expressing it, but Derek Holland is going to have a huge year–one that leaves him in the top 5 in AL Cy Young voting when all is said and done.

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