Despite numerous injuries, Rangers remain afloat
Well-run organization able to plug in talented prospects like Odor to fill in gaps
HOUSTON -- On Monday night, the Astros' Matt Dominguez whacked a hard ground ball toward Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor. The ball took a wicked hop above his glove and struck him somewhere around the belly button.
Then it crawled inside Odor's jersey, like it was a burrowing animal. Dominguez had one of the least likely hits of anyone's career.
"You know when that ball jumped, the way [Odor] jumped, I actually thought it hit him in the chest and went in his glove," Ron Washington said Tuesday afternoon. "When he stood up and went to [reach] in his shirt, I couldn't believe it. My first thought was, 'What else can happen to us?'"
Maybe he shouldn't have asked.
A little bit later Tuesday, Matt Harrison had to leave his start in the second inning because he was experiencing renewed pain in his back, which had twice been surgically repaired in the last year. And Houston's Dallas Keuchel registered a shutout against the Rangers.
On Wednesday, the team announced that Harrison needs spinal fusion surgery, ending his season and threatening his career. Texas also announced that left-hander Martin Perez, who hadn't pitched since Saturday, has been diagnosed with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament and could need Tommy John surgery.
They became the fourth and fifth starting pitchers on the disabled list for the Rangers -- joining Derek Holland (knee surgery), Tanner Scheppers and Joe Saunders -- and the results on the field weren't any better than in the doctor's office. Dominguez's walk-off single gave the Astros a 5-4 victory in a game that Texas led 4-0, and suddenly the difference between the two organizations didn't seem as wide as from Texarkana to El Paso.
You can't blame the Rangers for feeling shell-shocked. They are 20-21, their worst record through 41 games since 2008, and the hits just keep coming for an organization that checks in every season with the highest expectations, built almost exclusively during the years that Washington has worked for president of baseball operations and general manager Jon Daniels.
But there are ways things could be worse. One of them is that Odor could be with the Cubs or maybe the Rays. The 20-year-old from Maracaibo, Venezuela, has been sought by multiple teams in trade discussions with Texas, but Daniels refused to give him up.
Daniels has stood firmly behind the potential of Odor -- whose name is pronounced Roog-ned O-dure -- even those his middle infielders are Elvis Andrus, signed through 2022, and 21-year-old Jurickson Profar, who a year ago was ranked among baseball's best prospects. It was the presence of Profar (and to a lesser degree Odor and Luis Sardinas) that prompted Daniels to send Ian Kinsler to the Tigers for Prince Fielder.
Odor, promoted to play second base last week when Donnie Murphy went on the disabled list, is the third temp in line to fill in for Profar, who has been out since late March with a shoulder injury. This is the kind of constant turnover that has been the Rangers' reality all season, contributing to a start that has them in danger of losing sight of the Athletics in the American League West.
But it speaks to the long-term health of the franchise -- and specifically to a great decade of international signings -- that Daniels could plug in a guy like Odor.
In 329 Minor League games, always being young for the leagues he played in, Odor hit .280 with a .336 on-base percentage. He put those numbers together with an unusually quiet hitting approach and surprising strength, particularly in his arms and upper body.
A scout who watched Odor play a lot for high Class A Myrtle Beach last season raves about him as a potential difference-maker at the top of the order. He says Odor reminds him of Rod Carew, the Panamanian second baseman who carried a .328 career average with him to the Hall of the Fame.
"He's got a lot of upside," Washington said. "He can't help but continue to get better. Once he starts figuring out what the league is doing to him, he's the kind of kid who will start making the adjustments. He's not at all afraid. He believes in his abilities. When things go good, when things go bad, he don't get down on himself. You can tell he has some baseball IQ."
Odor has been a minor player since joining the Rangers. He's looked like a kid called up from Double-A, hitting .182 with one homer in seven games.
It's unclear how Odor will fit into the Rangers' long-term plans. Perhaps he may yet be traded to land some badly needed pitching behind Yu Darvish.
Injuries have decimated Texas, in particular the pitching staff. The club has already used a Major League-high 38 players, including 21 pitchers, and has made 16 disabled list moves.
Washington has been without Holland, his No. 2 starter, all season. Ditto his No. 1 catcher, Geovany Soto. He robbed Peter to pay Paul in switching Scheppers and Robbie Ross Jr. from the bullpen to the rotation at the end of Spring Training, and the bullpen has a 4.57 ERA, which ranks 11th in the AL.
Forced to look for strength in numbers, Washington's been going with an eight-man bullpen, which left him with a three-man bench for the series in Houston. This was not how the AL West was won in 2010 and '11.
Texas' lineup generally includes only two or three holdovers from the World Series years -- Adrian Beltre and Andrus every day and Mitch Moreland, force-fitted into left field, against right-handers. Gone are Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, Michael Young, Nelson Cruz, David Murphy and Kinsler.
"This year is the first time for me with all this constant change," Washington said. "I've been here for going on eight years. The first seven, it was normal. This is a little beyond normal."
Washington said his organization has always provided him with answers when he had personnel needs, citing the way that Nick Tepesch and Justin Grimm stepped in to fill holes in the bullpen a year ago. If this was a little later in the season, closer to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, it might be easier for Daniels to find some reinforcements.
"Probably would be," Washington said. "You could do something outside. Inside possibilities that we brought up, they've done well. We're still holding it together. We haven't fallen apart. We haven't fallen apart yet. I don't foresee us ever falling apart, really. You just have to adjust to what presents itself. You just have to keep adjusting. That's it."
Will Daniels be able to continue to resist the temptation to deal Odor and others of his top prospects after heavily dipping into his farm system the last few seasons? Who knows? For the Rangers, this whole season has been as big of a mystery as how a baseball can crawl between the buttons of a rookie's jersey.