SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The great Texas Rangers Tommy John experiment is about to begin. This could end up being a brilliant gambit that restores the Rangers as contenders, or it could be a complete folly that exacerbates the franchise’s pitching woes.
The answer probably lies somewhere in between, but nobody can predict with any degree of certainty how this is all going to end up. All that’s known is the Rangers' rotation is depending heavily on right-handers Shelby Miller and Edinson Vólquez, and left-hander Drew Smyly making a full recovery from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery.
“These guys have been around a while,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. “They are pitchers who have had a ton of success in the past. We just have to be mindful and get them to communicate with us. If they feel great, great, we’ll let them go. There will be days when they don’t bounce back as well, and that’s where they have to be honest with us. They are ready. They are fired up. They are ready to prove the world wrong.”
Minor missed all of 2015-16 while recovering from left shoulder surgery. He was an effective reliever for the Royals in 2017, and then made a successful transition last year back to the rotation. Signed by the Rangers as a free agent, he was 12-8 with a 4.18 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in 28 starts.
Lynn was a Tommy John case. After averaging 15 wins a year for the Cardinals in 2012-15, he missed all of 2016 after undergoing the surgery. He came back in 2017 to go 11-8 with a 3.43 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in 33 starts.
That’s the kind of bounceback the Rangers are hoping for from Volquez, Smyly and Miller. The catch is the Rangers are counting on three comeback cases, not just one.
“I think we are pretty healthy right now,” Miller said. “We have all been throwing the ball pretty well. I think we are all happy where we are at. When it matters, we’ll be ready to go, that’s for sure.”
The Rangers are under no illusions that this is going to be a smooth ride for all three.
“We are going to constantly be evaluating them, doing our due diligence, to make sure we are protecting them, to help them,” Woodward said. “Yes, they are coming off injuries, but they are ready to roll. As long as they are honest, there should be no restrictions if they are feeling good. If they don’t feel good, then we’ve got to look after them.”
This is the second go-around for Volquez, who had Tommy John surgery in 2009 and again on Aug. 4, 2017, just two months after throwing a no-hitter for the Marlins. The Rangers signed him in Spring Training of 2018 knowing he would need a full year of rehabilitation.
Smyly underwent his surgery on July 6, 2017, while with the Mariners and has not pitched in two seasons. Miller went down after four starts with the D-backs in 2017 and had surgery on May 10 of that year. He made four starts for Arizona last summer but had to be shut down because of elbow inflammation.
All three have had outstanding years in the big leagues -- Volquez and Miller have pitched in All-Star Games -- but they’ve also had years when they’ve struggled even when they were healthy.
Right now, everything has gone reasonably well in Spring Training, but the regular season has always been the ultimate test.
“When you look at what we are capable of when we are healthy, we’ve got guys who have done it at a level that’s pretty respectable,” Smyly said. “We just have to make sure guys are doing what they need to be doing between outings. If we stay on the field and make pitches, we have a chance to be very good.”