MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Rangers hope No. 5 starter emerges

Gonzalez, Martinez competing with non-roster options Guthrie, Griffin

Rangers hope No. 5 starter emerges

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Texas Rangers are looking for someone to take the fifth (spot in the rotation).

With 13 games remaining in Spring Training, however, the Rangers are still unsettled on who to slot into the rotation behind Cole Hamels, Derek Holland, Colby Lewis and Martin Perez. They at least need to fill the void until the hoped-for return of Yu Darvish in late May from the Tommy John surgery that sidelined him a year ago.

"There is still time," general manager Jon Daniels said.

Not a lot of time, though, not if manager Jeff Banister is going to stay with his expected plan of sticking with a five-man rotation, even with two off-days in April.

The Rangers have candidates, but they haven't seen results.

Veteran right-hander Jeremy Guthrie, a non-roster invitee, was given an extended look Monday in a 9-6 loss to the Rockies. Penciled in to go four innings, Guthrie came out after three. He gave up five runs (three earned), including back-to-back home runs to Gerardo Parra and Cristhian Adames with two out in the sixth, and a run-scoring triple in the seventh to Brandon Barnes, who then scored on a Ben Paulsen sacrifice fly.

But then A.J. Griffin, another proven arm with a spring invite, has given up six runs, including four home runs, in 9 1/3 innings across four appearances, and the young hopes of the future have struggled, too. Chi Chi Gonzalez has given up seven runs on 12 hits and four walks in 8 1/3 innings, and Nick Martinez has been charged with 12 runs (11 earned) in 11 2/3 innings.

"I'm confident somebody will step up and get the fifth spot," Banister said. "We have a little time left, not a lot. I still feel somebody will eventually come up and take the spot."

Right.

But the Rangers are looking to defend their American League West title, and they are hoping to avoid the early-season struggles of a year ago that forced them to battle until the final day of the season to overcome the Astros. And finding that fifth starter out of desire, not default, would help along those lines.

Brocail on Rangers' rotation

So far, though …

"No one has really distanced himself from the field this spring," Daniels said. "On the flip side, I try not to base those decisions off spring performances. … If it continues this way, it will leave us to base our decision more on how each fits in the bigger picture."

Translation? If one of the four doesn't bolt from the pack, Gonzalez or Martinez would seem the likelier candidates for the job, given they are on the 40-man roster and have shown flashes of the potential the Rangers hope can become reality.

They both were rushed through Texas' farm system to the big leagues. They both had their moments. And they both have given the Rangers reason to feel they can get better.

Gonzalez, 24, was a first-round Draft choice in 2013 who was called up last season less than two years after signing. While he was 4-6 with a 3.90 ERA in 14 appearances (10 starts) over three trips to Texas, he limited opposing hitters to a .202 average.

Martinez, 25, an 18th-round Draft choice in 2011 who was primarily a second baseman converted to a pitcher, has spent time with the Rangers each of the past two years, including going 7-7 in 2015 with a 3.96 ERA in 24 games (21 starts).

"I'm not overly concerned," Daniels said. "I'd feel better if someone was lights out, but things change in a hurry when you leave here."

On one hand, Texas is confident Darvish will return after mid-May, which would fill a possible need. On the other hand, Daniels knows it takes more than a handful of starting pitchers to get through a 162-game season for a team to contend.

The Rangers have averaged 11 starting pitchers used over the past six seasons, ranging from seven in 2011 to 15 in '14. They used 10 starting pitchers in 2010, 11 in both '12 and '13, and 12 in '15.

Daniels is focused on Texas contending. He knows meeting that goal requires an aggressive approach on the field and in the front office. Daniels doesn't want to mortgage the franchise's future, but he knows if a major need, like a spot in the rotation, has to be addressed, it needs to be done.

"I am confident we will field a rotation that we feel good about," Daniels said. "If we have to make adjustments, we will. We did last year. If you look at our rotation [in 2015] from start to finish, it was drastically different."

As well as calling up Gonzalez and Perez during the season, they made a blockbuster trade for Hamels, who was 7-1 in 12 starts, with the Rangers winning the last 10. Another in-season addition was Wandy Rodriguez, who was 6-4 in 15 starts, with Texas winning four of his five no-decisions.

"It is not ideal, but we have the ability to do it," Daniels said. "I don't want to be in the habit of always trading our young players, but we do have some players who are attractive [to other teams]. What we know is you can't take it for granted. Winning is hard."

That lesson was driven home the past six years.

The Rangers won back-to-back AL pennants in 2010 and '11. They were a Wild Card in 2012, won 91 games in 2013, but then endured a 67-95 season in 2014 before bouncing back to win the division last year.

"That 2014 season is a motivator," Daniels said. "I want to make sure when we look back in 20 years, we say the exception to what we were was 2014, that it will stand out because it's so far from what we were over the longer stretch."

And reaching that goal starts with the starting pitching.

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