Broken Arms The rock-bottom Rangers' staff may be one of the worst ever--and help is not on the way

May 27, 2001

For Texas Rangers general manager Doug Melvin, even a foray to a
Southlake grocery store last Saturday morning didn't offer
respite from the horror that is his pitching staff. "Hey," a
fellow customer sniped at Melvin, "when are you guys ever going
to get some pitching?" Milk, eggs and carping about the Rangers'
pitching--such are the staples of life in the Dallas-Fort Worth
Metroplex.

Attention, shoppers: If you thought last season's Rangers staff,
the worst in franchise history, stunk more than week-old cod,
best avert your noses from this year's version. Unless they
improve on what was a 6.28 ERA through Sunday, Texas pitchers
will challenge the 1930 Philadelphia Phillies (6.71), the '96
Detroit Tigers (6.38) and the '36 St. Louis Browns (6.24) for a
place among the worst staffs the game has seen. The pitchers'
failings were largely responsible for the resignation of
beleaguered manager Johnny Oates on May 4--Jerry Narron is the
Rangers' interim skipper--and left no wonder why the President's
old team had so few dubyas. Texas's 15-28 start matched the
second worst in Rangers history and, coupled with the fast
getaway by the Seattle Mariners in the American League West,
made Year One of the Alex Rodriguez Investment meaningless
before school let out for the summer. The last-place Rangers
were 17 games behind the first-place Mariners.

"There's been so much impatience and failure with pitching here,
it's almost become a mind-set," Melvin said on Saturday, the day
after the Toronto Blue Jays, in a 9-3 victory, mangled rookie
righthander Aaron Myette's ERA into something out of the Franklin
Pierce Administration (18.56). "I saw he said that if he doesn't
improve soon, he won't be around. After two starts! 'Two starts
and I'm gone!'"

The last Texas pitcher to strike out 200 batters in a season is
memorialized in bronze outside The Ballpark in Arlington: Nolan
Ryan, who did so a decade ago. Since then the Rangers have
developed one formerly reliable starter (righthander Rick
Helling, who won 20 games in 1998 but only 30 since), traded two
future All-Stars (starter Ryan Dempster, now with the Florida
Marlins, and closer Robb Nen, with the San Francisco Giants) and
whiffed terribly in the draft. In 1995, for instance, Texas took
righthander Jonathan Johnson in the first round of the draft
over righty Matt Morris because the front office thought Johnson
would get to the big leagues quicker. Johnson, a bust, was sold
to the Arizona Diamondbacks on April 27; Morris, recovered from
Tommy John surgery, was 6-2 with a 2.32 ERA through Sunday for
the St. Louis Cardinals. In the first round the next year the
Rangers took R.A. Dickey, oblivious to his injured right elbow;
he was outrighted to the minor leagues last week after every
other club passed on claiming him off waivers.

The pitching has been left so thin that Texas is rethinking its
draft and development philosophies. In next month's draft it
might base its selections more on overall ability than on who it
thinks will rise to the big leagues soonest. Moreover, managers
in the Rangers' minor league system will be encouraged to allow
starters to work through jams and to throw a minimum number of
pitches.

Despite the arms shortage, ambitious team owner Tom Hicks last
winter authorized more than a quarter of a billion dollars to be
spent on premier free-agent shortstop Rodriguez and another $9.5
million on aging infielders, third baseman Ken Caminiti and first
baseman Andres Galarraga. What did Texas do to shore up the worst
pitching staff in baseball last year (5.52 ERA)? It spent the
equivalent of change found under the organizational sofa cushions
($3.4 million) for Myette, who arrived in a trade with the
Chicago White Sox for shortstop Royce Clayton, and three
pedestrian journeymen, righties Jeff Brantley, Pat Mahomes and
Mark Petkovsek. "We thought Rick Helling and Kenny Rogers at the
front of the rotation would keep us in games," Melvin says. "And
we thought, with our offense, we could beat up on other teams'
three-four-five starters."

Instead, Helling (1-6, 7.19 ERA through Sunday) and Rogers (2-3,
6.56) have been awful, and the hitters haven't scored enough runs
to erase the mess left by the pitchers. The Rangers had won only
four games when they had scored fewer than seven runs. "Even with
our offense we're not going to score eight, nine, 10 runs every
game," says catcher Ivan Rodriguez. "We have to do something to
get the pitchers to get the ball down, throw strikes and get
hitters out." (Texas pitchers ranked 12th in the league in
strikeouts, with 225.)

Despite the disaster in Texas and the roaring success of his
former team in Seattle, Alex Rodriguez insists, "I'm happy to be
a Ranger.... I feel Mr. Hicks will do whatever it takes to win."
Hicks said last week that any forthcoming changes will be in the
interest of making Texas competitive next season. Melvin's most
likely moves are to try to find takers for Caminiti and
Galarraga. He might also use talented 23-year-old outfielder
Ruben Mateo to procure the young pitching the Rangers so badly
need. Even that may not be easy: The Montreal Expos turned down a
deal in which Texas would have swapped Mateo and outfielder Ricky
Ledee for 23-year-old righty Tony Armas Jr. Melvin also is
expected to concentrate his off-season shopping on pitching. "I
still think people will be attracted to play here because of
A-Rod," Melvin says.

Ivan Rodriguez tried finding reason for hope after the loss on
Saturday when he said, "There are still 4 1/2 months to go." Given
the state of Texas's pitching, that might be the worst news of
all.

--Tom Verducci

COLOR PHOTO: MICHAEL ZITO/SPORTSCHROME DowntroddenThough foes have used Texas pitchers for batting practice, A-Rod says he has no regrets.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)