ARLINGTON -- Rangers pitchers are entering a brave new world. Simply put, they are about to find out what "survival of the fittest" means when it comes to pitching at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. The word has come down from club president Nolan Ryan. There will be a relentless emphasis among Rangers pitchers on conditioning and those who don't embrace it are going to be left behind. "We know if we push these guys, some are going to get hurt or get left behind because they can't handle the intensity," strength and conditioning coach Jose Vazquez said. "But we're still going to turn up the intensity and take the approach that whoever comes out ahead is going to make the team. We don't want anybody to get hurt and we're not trying to run anybody into the ground, but it's going to be survival of the fittest."
The Rangers started getting the message across in instructional league and have not stopped since. This week, they brought 10 of their top young pitchers into Arlington to work with Vazquez during a week-long conditioning camp. Scott Feldman, Matt Harrison, Tommy Hunter, Eric Hurley, Doug Mathis, Josh Rupe, Michael Ballard, Thomas Diamond, Neftali Feliz and Derek Holland were brought in to get a first-hand feel for the Rangers' new pitching regimen. Other pitchers will come to another camp in January and some are already working out in Surprise, Ariz. "It's different," Feldman said. "In the past, it was a little more of 'this is what you need to do, now go out and do it.' Most guys would do it but this is their way of overseeing it and making sure everybody is ready." The pitchers also understand what will happen if they don't accept the challenge. "I'm down for it," Hurley said. "I'm ready. I've been after it already for five weeks. It's more than we've done before in the past, but I think it will help us get better." Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla are working on their own. Brandon McCarthy could be in later this week. Joaquin Benoit is also in town getting treatment on his sore shoulder in preparation to begin his rehab work. The Rangers have nothing to lose by pushing their pitchers to the limit. They were devastated by injuries in 2008. They ended up putting 14 different pitchers on the disabled list and finished with the highest team ERA (5.37) in the Major Leagues. "It was extremely frustrating," Vazquez said. "I know there is a lot of responsibility on the players, but I take it to heart because I know I can help these guys."
The pitchers need to embrace the concept and stick with it. Vazquez said that has been a challenge in the past. All players say they work out in the offseason. But Vazquez has found out what they say they did and what they actually did are two different things, and that has been the frustrating part. "The mental part of conditioning is just as tough as the physical part," Vazquez said. "A lot of guys don't have the mental capacity to push themselves through a physical workout. I'm challenging these guys into pushing themselves so they know what it's going to be like when they're on the mound." If that's not enough, some pitchers might want to check out the depth chart. There are going to be some serious competition for jobs in Spring Training and that's even if the Rangers don't make any moves this offseason. Millwood and Padilla are the only two pitchers guaranteed spots in the rotation. Among those who will be competing in camp for one of the other three spots are Feldman, Harrison, Mathis, McCarthy, Dustin Nippert, Kason Gabbard and Luis Mendoza. Diamond could also be in that mix after finally being fully recovered from both Tommy John elbow surgery in 2007 and ankle surgery this past summer. That's just at the beginning. Hunter, Holland, Feliz and Ballard represent the next wave of young pitchers who could be pushing for a job at the Major League level sooner than later. Behind them is an even bigger group of pitchers who collectively are the single biggest reason why the Rangers farm system is considered one of the best in the game right now. "You know behind you they've got a bunch of great pitchers," Harrison said. "You don't want to lose your spot. You wish them all the luck in the world, and you hope they also get an opportunity. But I don't want them to take my spot." Vazquez has not drastically changed his pitchers' conditioning program. He has long studied Ryan's approach to conditioning, long before the Hall of Fame right-hander was named club president a year ago. He was always a big believer in building up both the legs and the body as a way to keep the arm healthy. That was integral to Ryan's conditioning program that allowed him to pitch for 27 years. The Rangers simply insist that the emphasis will be much greater than it has been before. "It's never been the topic of conversation that it has been now," general manager Jon Daniels said. "The more you put a priority on something as an organization, the better chance the results are going to be there." After last season, the Rangers have nothing to lose.
|The Rangers put 14 pitchers on the disabled list in 2008. Here is the list and their injuries:|
|Vicente Padilla||neck, hamstring|
|C.J. Wilson||elbow surgery|
|Eric Hurley||shoulder inflammation|
|Kevin Millwood||strained groin|
|Kason Gabbard||elbow surgery|
|Doug Mathis||shoulder inflammation|
|A.J. Murray||strained rotator cuff|
|Jason Jennings||flexor tendon surgery|
|Luis Mendoza||shoulder inflammation|
|Brandon McCarthy||severe elbow inflammation|
|John Rheinecker||shoulder surgery|
|Joaquin Benoit||shoulder inflammation|
|Eddie Guardado||sore shoulder|
|Dustin Nippert||bruised shin|
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.