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Who Will Help Rangers Rotation 'Count to Five?'

In the wake of the Kyle Gibson trade, the Texas Rangers now have to sift through some options to fill out its starting rotation.

ARLINGTON, Texas — Mike Foltynewicz. Jordan Lyles. Dane Dunning. Kolby Allard. And ….

Well, that’s a fair question. After all, with the trade of Kyle Gibson to the Philadelphia Phillies, the Texas Rangers now have an opening in their starting rotation.

Manager Chris Woodward said on Saturday that he doesn’t feel a rush to anoint anyone on the pitching staff the fifth starter. Ideally, he said, someone would step up by their performance.

But, Woodward does have options. He mentioned two on Saturday, but he ruled out a third — for now.

Start with Taylor Hearn, who threw 3 2/3 innings Saturday night for the Rangers. It was his second straight starting appearance, after throwing three scoreless innings against the Houston Astros on July 25. Woodward considers him a candidate for the No. 5 spot, but Woodward also said that he needs to see if Hearn can get extended, pitch-count wise. He also is looking for Hearn to maintain his velocity and control later in games.

The ‘extension’ may be coming down the line. Woodward didn’t want Hearn to throw more than 60 pitches on Saturday, and he ended up throwing just 52. But he threw 31 strikes, gave up three hits and two runs (none earned), and retired nine of the final 10 hitters he faced after giving up a first-inning home run to Kyle Seager.

Whether starting works out for Hearn, he has a role on this staff, Woodward said.

“He’s more composed mentally,” Woodward said. “He feels like he belongs now. He could also be a one-time-through power arm. He’s valuable either way.”

Then there’s Spencer Howard, who in his first press conference with the Rangers told the media that he’s “super-stoked” to be here. Howard was the centerpiece of the Kyle Gibson trade with Philadelphia on Friday. To give up Gibson, and two other pitchers, the Rangers wanted the No. 1 prospect in the Phillies organization. The Phils met the price. Now, it’s up to Howard to carve out an opportunity, starting with a bullpen session on Sunday.

Howard was clear, though — he wants the chance to start.

“To my knowledge I am going to be starting sometime,” Howard said on Saturday. “I don’t know when. I’m throwing a bullpen [on Sunday] and then we’ll find out when I pitch as soon as you guys do.”

Woodward was a bit more reticent to put a timetable on Howard’s potential debut on the mound for the Rangers. He said Howard could see smaller stints or hit the rotation. The bullpen session on Sunday will likely give the Rangers a starting point. Howard wants to stretch himself out, saying he’s ready to break down the barriers that were keeping him from stretching out further with the Phillies.

But the Rangers are likely to be cautious, given Howard’s past shoulder problems and the fact that he hasn’t thrown more than four innings in a big league game this season. In addition, Howard said on Saturday that he couldn’t remember the last time he threw 80 pitches in a game (91 pitches in his first career win against Washington on August 31, 2020). 

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Then there’s John King, who is probably the most viable of the three. He just has to get healthy. King went on the 10-day injured list on July 9 with left shoulder inflammation. He hasn’t thrown in a game since, but it sounds like King is starting to bug the training staff about coming off the IL.

“He’s trying to get our trainers to accelerate the process because he feels so good,” Woodward said after King’s latest bullpen session on Friday.

But there’s one problem with this — Woodward said on Saturday that he wasn’t going to throw King back into the rotation right away.

“He’s out for now as a starter,” Woodward said.

King leads the Rangers with seven wins, but that doesn’t seem to matter much to Woodward, who would rather bring King back slowly.

But at least King feels better mentally now that the trade deadline has passed. Woodward admitted he had to do some hand-holding when it appeared King might be a throw-in for the Yankees as the team tried to execute the Joey Gallo trade.

“For three hours, King thought he was going to be a Yankee,” Woodward said. “That’s part of being a pro. You’re wanted when you’re a good player. That was us being honest with the kid. He got rumor of it and we didn’t want him finding out through social media.”

So, yes, the Rangers can’t wait to get King back. They can’t wait to see what Howard can do. They can’t wait to see more of Hearn.

But, as Woodward said, “nothing is guaranteed.”

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