Rangers' pitching staff excites coach Brocail

Rangers' pitching staff excites coach Brocail

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- One might take a cursory look at the Rangers' pitching staff and determine this year is going to be challenging for pitching coach Doug Brocail.

After all, the Rangers still have two starters -- Yu Darvish and Martin Perez -- trying to get back to peak form from Tommy John surgery and two more -- Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross -- who have injury concerns. Ross, recovering from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, won't be ready by the start of the season, leaving the Rangers once again facing the annual spring task of finding a fifth starter. The bullpen crackles with power, but two of those hard throwers -- Keone Kela and Tanner Scheppers -- also had significant injuries last season. Left-handed reliever Jake Diekman is out until at least the All-Star break, and three pitchers -- Perez, Alex Claudio and Sam Dyson -- will be competing in the World Baseball Classic.

Brocail is hardly daunted by the task ahead.

"I don't know if it's going to be a challenging pitching staff, I think it's going to be an exciting pitching staff," Brocail said Sunday, two days before pitchers and catchers report.

Maybe Brocail's excitement came from watching Darvish throw an impressive bullpen session on Saturday at the Rangers' training complex.

"Greatness," Brocail said. "The guy is in unbelievable shape. I watched the bullpen yesterday and it was really good. He is throwing all his pitches."

That's not a bad way for a pitching coach to start his spring in the desert.

Darvish impressive in camp

Brocail is aware of what needs to get done this spring. Brocail knows there is another level for Perez, he believes Cashner just needs mechanical work to get the power back and he understands the Rangers have to be patient with Ross even though he was putting something on his throws playing long toss on Saturday.

"He looked pretty darn good," Brocail said. "We have to search for a fifth starter, we know that. The delays are going to be tricky, but the nice thing is I have enough starting pitching to see what everybody brings to the table."

Cashner, who missed time last season because of neck and hamstring injuries, is at full strength. Brocail wants to get the power back in Cashner's pitches with mechanical adjustments to lengthen his stride, get extension in his arm and have him drive straight down the mound.

"We have some work to do," Brocail said. "There is a level of excitement for us to put our hands on him and get him to where he needs to be. I'm hoping it will be quick and easy."

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A.J. Griffin, the leading candidate for the fifth spot, comes into camp 15-plus pounds lighter and possibly more comfortable with the mechanics he reworked last year after missing two seasons with arm injuries.

"He seems gung-ho," Brocail said. "I know he's lost 15-plus pounds. Hopefully that will make for easier work. I hate to see a guy labor out there. Not that he was out of shape, but he can be in better shape and he knew it."

The Rangers also have Dillon Gee, a seven-year veteran with the Mets and Royals who is coming off thoracic outlet surgery, and holdovers Nick Martinez and Chi Chi Gonzalez. The Rangers are intrigued by right-handers Allen Webster -- once ranked as the fourth-best prospect in the Red Sox's farm system -- and Tyler Wagner, a rising Brewers prospect before being traded to the D-backs a year ago and coming down with a strained right elbow.

Mike Hauschild, a Rule 5 pick from the Astros, made 39 starts for Triple-A Fresno over the past two seasons, going 16-15 with a 3.30 ERA, a 1.28 WHIP and 200 strikeouts in 227 1/3 innings.

"We have to get our eyes on these guys and see what they have for us," Brocail said.

If the Rangers get Kela and Scheppers healthy, those two will join Dyson, Matt Bush, Jeremy Jeffress and Tony Barnette in a bullpen overflowing with right-handed power. Kela had elbow surgery in April last season and missed almost three months. He had a 5.86 ERA in his last 28 games but also held opponents to a .228 batting average with 33 strikeouts in 27 2/3 innings.

Scheppers missed five months because of knee surgery, the third straight season he has been sidelined with injuries after posting a 1.88 ERA in 76 appearances in 2013.

"Just get on the mound and get consistent," Brocail said. "He needs to throw. Tanner has proved in the past he's a Major League pitcher; we need to get him back to being a Major League pitcher."

With all that power from the right side, the Rangers may not need much from the left, but Brocail would like at least one more left-hander to go with Claudio.

"Claudio had a phenomenal year," Brocail said. "Claudio is that guy who can go two-plus innings. I would like a situational left-hander."

WBC '17 could prep Claudio for Rangers role

But there is one thing Brocail wants above all else, and he intends to hammer that message home this spring.

"We need to pound the strike zone," Brocail said. "We kind of got away from our strengths late last season. We are going to sit guys down and say, 'This is where we had our success. We need strikes and we can't get deep in the counts.'

"We did a really good job for 3 1/2 months, we didn't do a good job of it late. I don't know if we got complacent."

If the pitchers fulfill that mission, it could end up being a truly exciting pitching staff led by ace Cole Hamels.

"I can't wait to get the guys here," Brocail said. "It has been a long winter."

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.