The Texas Rangers are entering the 2009 season the same way they entered the 2008 season. The question is pitching. Can the Rangers pitching match up to that of Seattle, Oakland, or the Angels? Can the young pitchers make an impact at the next level? Will the addition of Mike Maddux, the Rangers new pitching coach, make a difference?
Texas enters Spring Training with two pitching spots locked in the rotation and three yet to be determined. Kevin Millwood will be the opening day starter yet again in 2009.
Vicente Padilla has the second spot locked up as well. The main competition will be between Matt Harrison, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Feldman, Dustin Nippert, and Thomas Diamond for the final three spots. There are also a handful of newcomers with invites to compete.
Harrison has the inside track for the three with his stellar 2008. He finished with a 9-3 record and a 5.49 ERA. McCarthy is coming off yet another injury plagued season. Nippert was acquired at the end of March and started slow. He ended up as one of the bright spots in 2008. Feldman wasn't expected to be in the rotation mix, however after injuries and his pitching, the Rangers couldn't get him out of the rotation. Diamond is a rookie who has yet to prove himself due to arm injuries.
Texas can't really count on one starter to be consistent from start to start. Padilla has had two pretty solid seasons and one real bad one. Which will show up for 2009?
Kevin Millwood hasn't been the ace everyone expected him to be. The rest of the Rangers are young and inexperienced. Look for Harrison to have a big year. As a left handed starter he will have an advantage in the ballpark. If Feldman pitches like he did last year with consistency he will be in the rotation.
McCarthy is in a make or break season. He has to pitch this season with no injuries or he might be on his way out of Texas. Diamond will try to earn his way in and receive a one way ticket to Arlington.
Of course, there are also younger pitchers looking to make an impact in 2009 at the next level. Derek Holland, the Rangers minor league pitcher of the year for 2008, is looking to make his name well known. As well is Neftali Perez, Omar Povada, Doug Mathis, Tommy Hunter, and newcomer Guillermo Moscoso. Moscoso was acquired in the deal that sent Gerald Laird to Detroit.
He will come with pressure to prove himself early. Holland, Feliz, and Povada are the future of this rotation and need more time in the minors. Mathis and Hunter both pitched in Arlington last year and can prove they belong this season.
The Rangers need to just stay consistent in 2009 to compete. Seattle, Oakland, and the Angels have all three left the AL West wide open for anyone to grab. This division is the most open division in the Majors and can have all four teams compete for the title and a playoff spot.
If Texas pitching can hold up, then they have the best shot and achieving something that they have not this decade. A division title.