MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

True 'Grit': Lewis keeps grinding for Rangers

True 'Grit': Lewis keeps grinding for Rangers

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Colby Lewis led the Texas Rangers in victories and innings pitched last year. At the time, he was working with a painful knee injury that required surgery after the season.

Lewis has been a mainstay of the Rangers' rotation for years. Nationally, he may not have a star-quality profile. But to his teammates, members of the coaching staff, team officials and fans, he has become one of those legendary Texas figures.

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What has made it possible for Lewis, at age 36, to keep succeeding in a career that has had more than its share of injuries?

"Grit," said Rangers manager Jeff Banister. "If you want to measure grit, just put Colby at the top of the list. Resilience. Physically, he takes care of himself, but he also has a way of just melting away whatever pain he's going through and going out and performing."

"I just think it comes down to, for me, I don't want anybody to ever look and say that I didn't get enough out of what I had," Lewis said. "I just always try to find a way to get it done, whether it's trying something new, not being stubborn.

"My wife always says I have unbelievable control of my will power. A lot of stuff doesn't stop me. When it hurts and it's painful, I just work through it."

Lewis' professional career has included some moments of considerable uncertainty. He was chosen by the Rangers in the supplemental first round of the 1999 Draft, but after unsuccessful stints with three organizations, he had to go to Japan to find baseball employment in 2008.

Two outstanding seasons in Japan got him back to the Rangers. In the pennant-winning seasons of 2010-11, Lewis was the Rangers' best postseason pitcher, going 4-1 with a 2.34 ERA over eight starts.

He was sidelined in '12 by surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his right elbow. In '13, he had right hip resurfacing surgery, subsequently becoming the first professional baseball player to return to action following that procedure.

After all of this, and the knee surgery, Lewis has become a different -- but better -- pitcher.

"I think he's got a great vision of the hitter," Banister said. "Even though early on in his career he was a power pitcher, now it's more feel, finesse. And he watches the swings very well. We can study hitters all we want with video, but until you're out there, 60-feet-6 away, and allow yourself to have a vision of what a hitter is trying to do, then you can read him, read his swing.

"And then you must have the ability of executing the pitch, which is what Colby does."

Saturday, Lewis pitched in a 'B' game on a practice field against a White Sox lineup that was a mix of Major and Minor Leaguers. For a competitor like Lewis, there wasn't any difference between this assignment and a conventional Cactus League start.

"It doesn't really matter if there's 10,000 people here [at Surprise Stadium] or 500 sitting back there watching," Lewis said. "Once a hitter steps into the box, you still have that adrenaline, you still want to get that guy out."

Lewis pitched four innings, giving up two runs on five hits, with one walk and two strikeouts. He threw 69 pitches, 41 for strikes.

"I felt really, really good. I felt my legs were underneath me and my arm felt really good," Lewis said. "I was just working on certain situations where I wouldn't necessarily throw a certain pitch, where I would throw a different one, and maybe add that to my repertoire as the season progresses."

The knee injury and subsequent surgery and rehabilitation have ironically allowed Lewis to get into better physical shape through the magic of riding a bicycle.

"This is much more fun," Lewis says. "This is much more scenic. I can go out there and see a lot of stuff. My kids are in school. I'm able to go out and take those two or three-hour bike rides and get a lot of work in."

Lewis has lost weight and says that he simply feels better. "I know for me just standing out on the mound not breathing heavy and your heart rate's not up, because you're used to it, I definitely think the cardio work has really helped," he said.

So there are no major physical issues confronting Lewis as he approaches another season, or as he suggests with a smile, "Besides being a little older and trying to get your body into baseball shape."

It will be another season in which Lewis will bring determination and will with him to the mound. The Rangers know for certain what they have in this pitcher. As Banister puts it: "There's no give-in in him."

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.