What the Texas Rangers put forth in 2014 was less a baseball season than a ghastly hour-to-hour slog that sometimes resembled baseball and mostly served as a reminder to the children there’s no reasoning with the game. At all. Ever. So, good luck. (And we need to have a talk about Santa.)
No sense rehashing the details, so let’s just say everybody got hurt, so many that if you didn’t personally pitch for the Rangers last season you were hardly trying, and the manager resigned in disgrace for decisions not even related to the worst Rangers team in three decades, and Ian Kinsler somehow came within 67 wins of getting his wish.
Yeah, there’s bad and then there’s finishing second-best in Texas, which the Rangers pulled off comfortably. That happens when all the previously mentioned stuff means you’ve become among the worst in the league at hitting, pitching, defending and maneuvering around your own dog. (And we need to have a talk about Derek Holland.)
They got beat by a tarp in New York. Granted, it was a very aggressive tarp. Still, it’s a reasonable sign a team can start packing the bat bags on its season.
So, anyway, that was how the Texas Rangers landed in the cellar or, more accurately, how the cellar landed on them, and how the Los Angeles Angels gained 43½ games and the Houston Astros 42½ games on them in the standings over a single calendar year. That’s a lot of games. But the Rangers were a lot of mess.
Maybe they can’t fix everything. But, had general manager Jon Daniels gone off four months ago to find himself on the Pacific Coast Trail and only just now emerged from the woods, the Rangers would still be relevant again. They’d need some pitching, sure. They’d need some luck, the good kind this time. But what the Rangers needed more than anything else was time.
Last we saw Prince Fielder he was covered in oil and tattoos and that was about it.
First he had shimmied into a Rangers uniform, played 42 games and hit three home runs and then was laid bare, literally by a magazine and figuratively by the degeneration of two disks in his neck. He last swung a bat on May 16, by which point the pain and weakness rolling down his arm had turned him into a ground-balling, .247-hitting, .360-slugging, beast-formerly-known-as-Prince wreck.
The man had missed one baseball game since 2008. He missed 120 in a single season as a Ranger.
He had company. Holland, Jurickson Profar, Shin-Soo Choo, Matt Harrison, Martin Perez, Alexi Ogando, Tanner Scheppers, Mitch Moreland, Yu Darvish, and many more, they all succumbed to the mystical sniper perched on Greene’s Hill, too.
The Rangers have answered with patience, so far. They replaced Washington with Jeff Banister. They traded for left-hander Ross Detwiler. They hoped everybody was getting well, or staying well. And, you know, if Darvish’s and Choo’s elbows are sound, and Profar’s shoulder is salvageable and the back end of the rotation becomes somewhat reliable, and Elvis Andrus decides he really, really wants to be a good ballplayer again and, OK, there’s a lot for time alone to solve.
The guy I keep coming back to, though, is Fielder. If he’s not the most critical element of the Rangers’ healing winter, he’s there with Darvish, and the Rangers don’t work without both. Fielder is the one coming off spinal surgery, and he is the one chewing up a good portion of the Rangers’ payroll.
Fielder’s agent, Scott Boras, said Fielder is swinging a bat and that he is beginning to feel normal. There’s a difference already, Boras said, in Fielder’s flexibility and ability to extend through the ball.
“The medicals are good, the rehab is good,” Boras said. “The pre-spring training performance is at normal rates. All is as hoped.”
Fielder may never hit 50 home runs again. He will hit more than three, however. He’ll be strong again. He’ll lift the ball again. And, barring more issues, he’ll play every day again. It’s a start, for him and the Rangers. And maybe the game will become kinder to them both.
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