Programming note: A’s Insider Joe Stiglich is in Arizona; check back for his coverage throughout spring training and watch SportsNet Central nightly at 6 and 10:30 p.m. for all the day’s MLB news.
PHOENIX – The spring has reached that critical period where teams must start hashing out what their Opening Day rosters will look like.
As is the case every year, injuries and overall health play a big part in those decisions. Here’s an update on how the Oakland A’s division competitors are shaping up with the regular season approaching in less than two weeks. We’ll list the teams in reverse alphabetical order, because it just seems right to begin with the Texas Rangers, who still appear to be the biggest challenger for the two-time defending division champion A’s …
Texas Rangers – There are opportunities aplenty in the Rangers’ rotation thanks to injuries to Derek Holland and Matt Harrison. Yu Darvish and Martin Perez are locks for the five-man staff. But Alexi Ogando faltered in his most recent exhibition start. Recently signed veteran Joe Saunders – familiar to A’s fans as a longtime A.L. West foe – figures to land somewhere in the rotation. Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross, who pitched out of the bullpen last season, are serious contenders to start. Tommy Hanson is in the mix too. How the rotation shakes out will also impact the makeup of the bullpen.
Holland, recovering from knee surgery, is expected to remain out until July. Harrison could return from a back injury in mid-April. A couple other key players nursing injuries, shortstop Elvis Andrus (elbow) and DH Mitch Moreland (oblique) say they’ll be ready for the opener.
Seattle Mariners – Robinson Cano is hitting 556 (15 for 27) through 10 games in spring training. Talk about getting your $240 millions’ worth! … But in all seriousness, the Mariners have their work cut out to make up for injuries to Hisashi Iwakuma (finger) and Taijuan Walker (shoulder) in their starting rotation. Seattle hopes to have both back sometime in April.
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So who might A’s hitters be facing besides ace Felix Hernandez? Lefty James Paxton and Erasmo Ramirez are close to locks, according to a report from the Tacoma News Tribune. Veterans Scott Baker and Randy Wolf are possible front-runners for the final two slots. For what it’s worth, the Mariners’ 14-6 record entering Thursday was second-best in the Cactus League behind Cleveland (15-5).
Los Angeles Angels – Josh Hamilton, who will have to be instrumental in any run the Angels make in the A.L. West, is back in the lineup following a calf injury. He’ll slot into the cleanup spot against right-handed pitchers, but there’s a chance manager Mike Scioscia drops him to fifth against lefties, with David Freese one option to bat cleanup versus southpaws.
The Angels made efforts improve their bullpen over the offseason, but injuries are taking their toll. There’s a chance they begin the season with an all right-handed bullpen due to injuries to lefties Sean Burnett and Brian Moran. That could open the door for lefty Nick Maronde to land a bullpen spot, according to the Orange County Register.
Los Angeles needs young starter Tyler Skaggs to find his form. He has a 6.14 ERA after four starts, and he’s being counted on to bolster the rotation behind Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson.
Houston Astros – Manager Bo Porter has named Scott Feldman, Jarred Cosart and Brett Oberholtzer as his top three starting pitchers. Lucas Harrell has a good shot at making the rotation. Another man factoring into the competition is former A’s prospect Brad Peacock, one of three players sent to the Astros in the trade for Jed Lowrie. Peacock has been working on a changeup that could help him land in the season-opening rotation for the second straight season. The right-hander went 5-6 with a 5.18 ERA last season and also spent a large chunk of the season in the minors.
A’s radio play-by-play announcer Ken Korach will be signing copies of his Bill King biography, “Holy Toledo”, on Saturday from 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.