For Texas rangers general manager Doug Melvin, even a foray to a Southlake grocery store last Saturday morning didn't offer respite from the horror that is his pitching staff. "Hey," a fellow customer sniped at Melvin, "when are you guys ever going to get some pitching?" Milk, eggs and carping about the Rangers' pitching—such are the staples of life in the Dallas- Fort Worth Metroplex.
Attention, shoppers: If you thought last season's Rangers staff, the worst in franchise history, stunk more than week-old cod, best avert your noses from this year's version. Unless they improve on what was a 6.28 ERA through Sunday, Texas pitchers will challenge the 1930 Philadelphia Phillies (6.71), the '96 Detroit Tigers (6.38) and the '36 St. Louis Browns (6.24) for a place among the worst staffs the game has seen. The pitchers' failings were largely responsible for the resignation of beleaguered manager Johnny Oates on May 4—Jerry Narron is the Rangers' interim skipper—and left no wonder why the President's old team had so few dubyas. Texas's 15-28 start matched the second worst in Rangers history and, coupled with the fast getaway by the Seattle Mariners in the American League West, made Year One of the Alex Rodriguez Investment meaningless before school let out for the summer. The last-place Rangers were 17 games behind the first-place Mariners.
"There's been so much impatience and failure with pitching here, it's almost become a mind-set," Melvin said on Saturday, the day after the Toronto Blue Jays, in a 9-3 victory, mangled rookie righthander Aaron Myette's ERA into something out of the Franklin Pierce Administration (18.56). "I saw he said that if he doesn't improve soon, he won't be around. After two starts! 'Two starts and I'm gone!' "
The last Texas pitcher to strike out 200 batters in a season is memorialized in bronze outside The Ballpark in Arlington: Nolan Ryan, who did so a decade ago. Since then the Rangers have developed one formerly reliable starter (righthander Rick Helling, who won 20 games in 1998 but only 30 since), traded two future All-Stars (starter Ryan Dempster, now with the Florida Marlins, and closer Robb Nen, with the San Francisco Giants) and whiffed terribly in the draft. In 1995, for instance, Texas took righthander Jonathan Johnson in the first round of the draft over righty Matt Morris because the front office thought Johnson would get to the big leagues quicker. Johnson, a bust, was sold to the Arizona Diamondbacks on April 27; Morris, recovered from Tommy John surgery, was 6-2 with a 2.32 ERA through Sunday for the St. Louis Cardinals. In the first round the next year the Rangers took R.A. Dickey, oblivious to his injured right elbow; he was outrighted to the minor leagues last week after every other club passed on claiming him off waivers.
The pitching has been left so thin that Texas is rethinking its draft and development philosophies. In next month's draft it might base its selections more on overall ability than on who it thinks will rise to the big leagues soonest. Moreover, managers in the Rangers' minor league system will be encouraged to allow starters to work through jams and to throw a minimum number of pitches.
Despite the arms shortage, ambitious team owner Tom Hicks last winter authorized more than a quarter of a billion dollars to be spent on premier free-agent shortstop Rodriguez and another $9.5 million on aging infielders, third baseman Ken Caminiti and first baseman Andres Galarraga. What did Texas do to shore up the worst pitching staff in baseball last year (5.52 ERA)? It spent the equivalent of change found under the organizational sofa cushions ($3.4 million) for Myette, who arrived in a trade with the Chicago White Sox for shortstop Royce Clayton, and three pedestrian journeymen, righties Jeff Brantley, Pat Mahomes and Mark Petkovsek. "We thought Rick Helling and Kenny Rogers at the front of the rotation would keep us in games," Melvin says. "And we thought, with our offense, we could beat up on other teams' three-four-five starters."
Instead, Helling (1-6, 7.19 ERA through Sunday) and Rogers (2-3, 6.56) have been awful, and the hitters haven't scored enough runs to erase the mess left by the pitchers. The Rangers had won only four games when they had scored fewer than seven runs. "Even with our offense we're not going to score eight, nine, 10 runs every game," says catcher Ivan Rodriguez. "We have to do something to get the pitchers to get the ball down, throw strikes and get hitters out." ( Texas pitchers ranked 12th in the league in strikeouts, with 225.)
Despite the disaster in Texas and the roaring success of his former team in Seattle, Alex Rodriguez insists, "I'm happy to be a Ranger....
I feel Mr. Hicks will do whatever it takes to win." Hicks said last week that any forthcoming changes will be in the interest of making Texas competitive next season. Melvin's most likely moves are to try to find takers for Caminiti and Galarraga. He might also use talented 23-year-old outfielder Ruben Mateo to procure the young pitching the Rangers so badly need. Even that may not be easy: The Montreal Expos turned down a deal in which Texas would have swapped Mateo and outfielder Ricky Ledee for 23-year-old righty Tony Armas Jr. Melvin also is expected to concentrate his off-season shopping on pitching. "I still think people will be attracted to play here because of A-Rod," Melvin says.
Ivan Rodriguez tried finding reason for hope after the loss on Saturday when he said, "There are still 4� months to go." Given the state of Texas's pitching, that might be the worst news of all.