Lewis injury forces Rangers to find new starter
ARLINGTON, Texas – If the Texas Rangers weren't prepared to make a major splash before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, they are now. The best postseason pitcher in the history of the franchise, Colby Lewis, will undergo surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his right elbow and miss the rest of the season.
This is by far the biggest blow to a pitching staff that has had more than its fair share of setbacks this season. Now, the pressure is on to trade for a front-line starter at some point in the next seven days.
Lewis, who was in uniform Monday, still appeared to be processing the news as he met with reporters just before first pitch against the Boston Red Sox. For the past three seasons, he's limped around because of a chronically bad hip. He's regarded as the toughest pitcher on the staff and he's had a tremendous influence on the Rangers' young pitchers. Lewis, who is set to become a free agent after this season, said he's been told his rehab will take 9-12 months. There's a decent chance he's pitched his last game with the Rangers, although general manager Jon Daniels vowed to do everything possible to assist Lewis with his recovery.
But as harsh as it might sound, the Rangers don't have time to worry about Lewis' future. Sources had told FoxSportsSouthwest.com in recent days the Rangers would only make a major move at the deadline if something fell into their laps. There was a different tone to the discussion in the aftermath of the Lewis news.
In case you haven't heard, right-hander Neftali Feliz hasn't exactly blown the doors off his rehab assignment. Daniels said that Feliz will require at least two more starts at the minor-league level – he'll start in Round Rock on Tuesday and likely throw 60 pitches - before he's an option. The organization is hoping Lewis' injury might give Feliz more sense of urgency as he vies to replace him in the rotation.
And Daniels didn't rule out reliever Alexi Ogando returning to the rotation, where he pitched most of the 2011 season. Ogando did not pitch in Monday's 9-1 win over the Red Sox after back-to-back appearances.
"It's something we've talked about," Daniels said. "What's the best role for him? We may look for opportunities in the game to stretch him out and give him that option."
There's also this issue of veteran right-hander Roy Oswalt having to skip Tuesday's start after tweaking his back. The Rangers seem confident that an injection he'll have in Houston will prevent the need to place him on the 15-day disabled list. But Oswalt was sidelined with a back injury last season with the Philadelphia Phillies, so it's definitely a worry.
Though Daniels isn't going to admit it publicly, the Rangers have lost leverage in a potential trade scenario because of Lewis' injury. The Phillies have made what I'm told are "outrageous" demands from the Rangers for the services of left-handed starter Cole Hamels. Daniels has rarely acted out of desperation over the years, but the Phillies know how badly his team needs a starter. He was asked Monday whether Lewis' absence would alter the Rangers' strategy at the deadline.
"I think it's going to depend on the specifics of the situation," Daniels said. "We've been monitoring the market. We've had our guys out there looking at some different things. We've had conversations with clubs. I just can't handicap it right now. Our focus is still the same, which is to put the best club out there and give us a chance to win. But the deal's got to be right."
Making a spot start Monday, Scott Feldman picked a great time to have his best outing of the season against the Red Sox. He lasted seven innings and only gave up one run on seven hits. Feldman was sharp throughout the game and the Rangers finally played some defense behind him. Manager Ron Washington said Feldman earned the chance to start again, but that's all he would promise at this point. He said the Rangers will continue to look "in-house" for Lewis' replacement, but he knows the front office will be aggressive.
"We're always looking to get somebody," Washington told FoxSportsSouthwest.com. "But sometimes there's nobody out there to get. We'll get it done with the guys we already have if that's the case."
Lewis will be nearly impossible to replace because of his postseason pedigree. His win against the New York Yankees in Game 2 of the 2010 American League Championship Series remains one of the biggest in franchise history. Then he followed it up with a win in Game 6 to clinch the Rangers' first trip to the World Series. He was 4-1 with a 2.34 ERA in 50 innings during the postseason. He didn't have C.J. Wilson's stuff, but he had far more success in the playoffs and refused to make excuses when things didn't go well. The Rangers will put on a brave face in his absence, but they know the void he leaves.
"When it comes to the playoffs, there was no one better than Colby," said Ian Kinsler after Monday's win.
It's an accurate statement, and it's why the Rangers face more pressure than ever to make a trade at the deadline.