Given a rotation that's already down Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando and two other starters, the news that Yu Darvish will hit the disabled list would appear to indicate significant trouble ahead for the Rangers. Fortunately, it appears as though the team is simply exercising some caution, taking advantage of the upcoming All-Star break to buy their ace some extra rest.
On Thursday, Darvish will be placed on the disabled list due to a mild strain of his right trapezius, the neck muscle that moves the scapula. The Rangers don't feel as though this is a particularly serious injury, as this tweet from Jeff Wilson of Fox Sports Southwest indicates:
Via the Dallas Morning News' Evan Grant, assistant general manager Thad Levine called it "a move of prudence… It’s a chance to get him some rest, have him miss only one start, catch his breath and be ready to hit the ground running in the second half." Via MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan, Levine added, "He is characterizing it as a fatigue type of deal more than anything."
Because he last started on July 6, Darvish can be placed on the DL retroactive to July 7, which would make him eligible to return on July 22 against the Yankees, the Rangers' fourth game after the All-Star break. Thus the team will only have to use a fill-in — either reliever Ross Wolf or Double-A righty Neil Ramirez — for Thursday's start against the Orioles.
Darvish is currently carrying a 3.02 ERA to go with an AL-high 11.8 strikeouts per nine, though he's been struggling a bit lately. Over his last four starts, he had allowed six homers and walked 12 in 24 innings, en route to a 4.50 ERA. The Rangers are just 2-6 in his last eight starts, only four of which have been quality starts.
The Rangers came into Wednesday with the league's third-best record (52-37) and fifth-best rotation ERA (3.94), but they lost to the Orioles when Josh Lindblom was rocked for six runs in 5 1/3 innings. Lindblom was filling in for rookie Nick Tepesch, who made 16 starts with a 4.85 ERA before going on the DL earlier this week due to elbow inflammation, where he joined quite a cast:
• Matt Harrison: With a 3.29 ERA, a team-high 213 1/3 innings and 6.1 WAR, Harrison was the Rangers' most valuable pitcher last year, but he made just two starts before going on the disabled list due to a herniated disc in his back. Since then, he's had not one but two surgeries. He just progressed to playing catch off a mound, but may not be back until late August or September.
• Alexi Ogando: A pitcher who's bounced back and forth between the bullpen and the rotation in his four seasons with the team, Ogando made nine starts with a 3.08 ERA before a biceps strain sidelined him for three weeks from May 16 to June 4. He made just one start upon returning before shoulder inflammation sent him back to the DL. He made his first rehab appearance at Triple-A Round Rock on July 7, throwing 41 pitches, and will start again on Thursday, and probably once more after that before returning to the Rangers.
• Colby Lewis: Limited to 16 starts last year due to elbow problems that culminated in late July surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon, Lewis has progressed to throwing live batting practice. Barring a setback, he could head out on a rehab assignment shortly after the break.
• Neftali Feliz: A former closer moved to the rotation in 2012, Feliz started just seven times before being forced to the DL by elbow soreness. Several setbacks later, he wound up undergoing Tommy John surgery on Aug. 1. He's currently throwing three bullpen sessions a week, and working toward an August return, though it would hardly be a surprise if that came in the bullpen instead of the rotation. That casualty list leaves Derek Holland (18 starts, 3.19 ERA) as the last man standing from the team's season-opening rotation. Rookies Justin Grimm (16 starts, 5.88 ERA), Martin Perez (five starts, 2.08 ERA), Lindblom (eight appearances, five starts and a 5.46 ERA) and Wolf (12 appearances, one start and a 1.95 ERA) are rounding out the unit at the moment. The team recently scouted the Cubs' Matt Garza, in whom they expressed interest last year July before he himself was sidelined due to injury, and they'd probably welcome back Cliff Lee if the Phillies are willing to move him. Even with Darvish, Ogando and Lewis all back in the rotation by the time of the July 31 deadline, it seems quite likely the Rangers will seek some insurance.