Rangers' Woodward Focusing on 5-Man Rotation, Pitching Depth as Workouts Begin This Week

Chris Halicke

The excitement surrounding the Texas Rangers heading into the 2020 season is driven by a revamped starting rotation—one that is the best they've had on paper in quite some time.

Both Mike Minor and Lance Lynn were Cy Young candidates in 2019, anchoring a rather inconsistent rotation on a 78-win team. This year, they are joined by Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles—two quality arms for the back end of nearly any rotation in baseball—and two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber. 

Any talks of the Rangers making a bid for the postseason in 2020 began and ended with starting pitching.

Then coronavirus hit.

Heading into a situation with no light at the end of the tunnel, and no guarantee baseball would even be able to return this year, all five hurlers worked as much as they could over the extended absence. Now, as long as coronavirus doesn't derail baseball's attempt at a comeback, the reconstructed rotation will be picking things back up in Arlington, ready to hit the ground running.

"All five of them are ahead of schedule. They have all done a heck of a job preparing in this time," Rangers manager Chris Woodward said on Thursday's Zoom call. "I just talked to Julio [Rangel] about it today. By the time Spring Training is over, it’s almost like we had the normal Spring Training and the normal off-season. That’s how ready they are."

The five-man rotation is so prepared heading into workouts this week that Woodward believes without any setbacks, they could be ready to go as far as 90 pitches from the start of the season.

The dynamic of a 60-game season has teams throughout baseball thinking of ways to maximize their pitching staffs. In the AL West, the Angels and Mariners are close to committing to six-man rotations. The Angels have Shohei Ohtani coming back from Tommy John surgery and plan to have him pitch once a week. Add in names like Andrew Heaney, Dylan Bundy, Julio Teheran, Griffin Canning, and Felix Pena, and the Angels have themselves a six-man rotation. 

However, not all teams are trying to reinvent the wheel for even a very unique season. Oakland A's manager Bob Melvin plans on using the traditional five-man rotation.

“At this point, I don’t see us going with a six-man rotation,” Melvin said. “It’s a three-week spring training, and we have to build them up, and we’re not going to be expecting them to throw complete games the first time out.

“Our guys have been throwing. Yes, they’ve been smart about it and they’ve been social distancing and all that, and we haven’t had our camp open like some other teams have. But we’ve got our five all healthy. We like what we got.”

Even without Gerrit Cole, the Astros are still top heavy in their rotation. With Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, and the return of Lance McCullers Jr., the Astros will likely employ a five-man rotation as well. 

In a similar way, Chris Woodward likes what the Rangers' starting five brings to the table, even in a 60-game season.

"We had talked early about going with six but we are going to stick with five for now," Woodward said. "It all depends on the health of our starters. If one of them goes down, if we don’t like what we see, we can build in other days because we will have a bigger roster. There will be some off-days early in the season that will build in a six-man so I’m not worried about that."

The Rangers have quite a bit of depth to consider as well. Behind their starting five, they have names like Kolby Allard and Joe Palumbo that could spot start for the Rangers. Names like Jonathan Hernandez and Taylor Hearn are intriguing names, given their versatility and ability to pitch multiple innings. 

“I don’t think we look at them as traditional starters, but they can go three or four innings max," Woodward said of Hernandez and Hearn. "That gives us a lot of creativity to use those guys. If you use both of those guys back-to-back, that’s a pretty lethal combo—one from the left, one from the right, the ball’s doing different things. It's going to be really tough on opposing hitters. They give us a lot of ways we can utilize our bullpen to win games."

The Rangers also have several options that could make an impact at some point, but Woodward plans to look at them on a case-by-case basis. There's a great sense of urgency this season with little rope for the vast majority of the roster. As workouts begin this week, Woodward is planning to push his younger guys to make an impact.

"We need guys that are fearless when they get out there," Woodward said. "Whether these guys are young guys with big stuff, we have to have guys who have a dependable mentality when they get out there because if I am matching right on right or left on left, we’ve got to know we can go out and trust they can keep up."

The 60-game season will provide a number of challenges for all 30 clubs. While the Rangers are in a much better position on the mound than in most years, their depth will be challenged this year. In the coming weeks, Woodward will find out who can contribute and who will be throwing off bullpen mounds in Globe Life Park come July 24. 

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