The Rangers’ free-agent additions to the rotation this winter consisted of Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross, but following a setback for Cashner in his bout with biceps tendinitis, neither of those right-handers will be ready for Opening Day. In light of that news, MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan reports that the Rangers aren’t ruling out the addition of a free-agent starter (Twitter links). More specifically, he adds that some club officials admitted to him that they’re missing right-hander Colby Lewis. Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram tweets something similar, noting that the Rangers aren’t sure where Lewis is at from a training standpoint but adding that it “sounds like he’s entered their thinking.”
The 37-year-old Lewis, who has spent the past seven seasons in the Rangers organization, and the 33-year-old Doug Fister are the two most prominent names remaining among unsigned free agents. Others that are available include Edwin Jackson (who reportedly didn’t impress Texas at a February workout), Jake Peavy (who is not ready to sign due to personal reasons) and Jerome Williams.
Lewis is obviously a known commodity for the Texas front office, having racked up 997 2/3 innings with the Rangers dating back to the 2010 season — his first back in the Majors following a stint in Japan that saved his career. Last season saw Lewis turn in a 3.72 ERA with 5.7 K/9, 2.2 BB/9 and a 34.1 percent ground-ball rate in 116 1/3 innings of work. A strained lat muscle cost Lewis nearly three months of the year, and when he returned to action in mid-September, the results were hardly encouraging; in four starts to close out the season, Lewis yielded 17 runs (13 earned) on 22 hits and nine walks with 12 strikeouts in 18 1/3 innings.
As for Fister, the right-hander gave the Astros 180 1/3 innings of work last year — his highest innings count since the 2013 season — but wasn’t able to recover much of the missing life on his fastball. Fister averaged just 87 mph on his heater last year and has averaged 86.7 mph on the pitch over the past two seasons combined. The results, as one might expect, haven’t been great. In 283 1/3 innings between the Nationals and Astros, Fister has worked to a 4.48 ERA with 5.7 K/9 against 2.7 BB/9 while his ground-ball rate has dipped from 54 percent to 45 percent. And if one were to eliminate the 10 solid relief appearances he made in 2015 after losing his rotation spot, his ERA as a starter over the past two campaigns checks in at 4.63.
That’s a fair amount of doom and gloom, but the fact is that each pitcher comes with a lengthy track record in the Majors and could help to deepen the Rangers’ pitching staff. Either could potentially serve as a stopgap until one or both of Cashner and Ross is ready, and it’s certainly plausible that either could rebound as well. Lewis was sharp prior to hitting the DL with the aforementioned lat injury last season. Fister is still just 33 years old and made 32 starts last season, suggesting that there’s still plenty left in the tank, even if his velocity isn’t what it once was.
Yu Darvish, Cole Hamels and Martin Perez are locks in the Texas rotation as it stands, but the team’s other options behind that trio include a less-inspiring mix of A.J. Griffin, Chi Chi Gonzalez, Nick Martinez, Tyler Wagner, Eddie Gamboa and non-roster invite Dillon Gee.