ARLINGTON, Texas – The Texas Rangers entered the season expecting their starting rotation to be the strength of the team.
That strength is being put to the test as All-Star left-hander Matt Harrison will be out through the All-Star break because of a herniated disk in his lower back.
Harrison, who signed a five year, $55-million contract in the offseason, will have back surgery Tuesday. Harrison, who made just two starts before going on the disabled list because of what was thought to be an inflamed nerve in his lower back, is hoping to be able to return in 2 1/2 to 3 months.
“It’s pretty frustrating,” Harrison said. “Obviously treatments and stuff we tried to do didn’t work. It’s unfortunate but I’m trying to stay positive through this and look forward to getting this taken care of and getting this thing back on track and getting out there and playing ball again.”
Harrison, the Texas Opening Day starter, went on the DL April 11. He had two epidural injections in the back to try to alleviate the pain but it didn’t work. He flew to Los Angeles Friday for a second opinion.
He began feeling some pain in his back while running in spring training. He tried to pitch through it despite having some numbness in his left leg. The Rangers are hoping that by getting the surgery done now he’ll be able to make an impact sooner rather than later.
“Losing any of your guys it’s never good news,” Texas general manager Jon Daniels said. “Matt’s particularly important to us and I think his decision to have it now rather than wait once it seemed like this is where it’s headed we’re all in agreement this is the best thing for him and the club rather than to wait and waste two or three weeks when it doesn’t seem like rehab was going to be effective. From that standpoint that’s the silver lining.”
Daniels said the team is content to ride things out with the rotation the Rangers have right now. That means rookies Nick Tepesch and Justin Grimm will complete the rotation along with Yu Darvish, Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando. Tepesch and Grimm have combined for two major-league wins.
Despite the makeshift rotation, the Rangers came into Friday’s game with the fifth best starting ERA (3.46) in the American League. Daniels is confident the team won’t have to go outside the organization to get another starter to fill the gap.
“We’re always kind of keeping our eyes open,” he said. “I don’t expect that we’ll be doing anything outside. I think we’ll play it out. We like the guys we’ve got. We like the guys we’ve got on the mend.”
One of those on the mend is Colby Lewis, who threw another live batting practice session Friday. He’s scheduled to throw one or two more sessions before making an extended spring start. After that, he’ll go out on a rehab assignment. Left-hander Martin Perez is also expected to throw live batting practice in seven to 10 days.
Mending pitchers and rookie pitchers can help fill the gap, but there’s no doubt the loss of Harrison will be felt.
“That was the one thing I felt like we were vulnerable to was an injury to one of the main guys in our rotation,” designated hitter Lance Berkman said. “We have four excellent starting pitchers, but we have a thin list of candidates to replace. They have the ability to do so, but it’s a track record issue. Every year there’s some adversity to fight through and this might be it.”
The club has to hope so. Two years ago when the Rangers went to the World Series they got 156 starts from their Opening Day rotation. Last year that number dropped to 111.