Texas Rangers’ spring opener vs. Kansas City will be ‘bizarre’ at times. Here’s why

Jeff Wilson
·4 min read

Texas Rangers baseball is back. Sort of.

The spring-training schedule opens Sunday, and as it almost always does against the Kansas City Royals at Surprise Stadium.

Pitchers will log only one inning, which is standard. Position players are likely to play only long enough to collect two at-bats, also standard.

The rest of it, though, is kind of off the rails because of the COVID-19 health and safety protocols enacted by MLB and the MLB Players Association.

Games through mid-March might only last five innings.

A team might not be required to record three outs in an inning.

A pitcher who is removed from say, the second inning, can re-enter for the third.

Oh, boy.

“I love to win, but that’s not what we’re here to do. We’re here to get our players ready,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. “I don’t think our games in a normal setting will be less than nine if there’s no COVID, but I don’t mind it right now. It’s going to be weird playing seven-inning games, or potentially six-inning games, or five if we don’t have that many pitchers.”

Here are a few things to look for this spring.

Nine or seven?

The Royals wanted to play a nine-inning game Sunday. That’s how they set up their pitching schedule leading into spring training.

The Rangers said they had only six pitchers after evaluating who’s ready to go and who might need another live batting practice or bullpen.

The compromise — after discussions between managers, pitching coaches and even the general managers — was to play seven innings and then the Royals will play the final two as an intrasquad game.

“It’s going to be weird. It’s going to be different,” Woodward said. “This is the new normal in every way. So we’re going to pack up our stuff and go and they’re going to be still playing on the field, which is going to be bizarre.”

On a roll

One of the new protocols that Woodward doesn’t like is the ability to roll an inning, which is another way to say end the inning without recording the necessary three outs.

That can be done after a pitcher reaches 20 pitches.

Rather than roll an inning, Woodward might replace the struggling pitcher to finish the inning, and then reinsert him for the next inning.

That’s another new protocol, and Woodward and others have wanted that for some time.

“Especially for your starters,” he said. “If they’re scheduled to go three innings and in the first inning, no fault of his own, maybe he throws 25 pitches, 30 pitches, if we have the option to just take them out right there ... I’m not going to let him go out there for 35 pitches and let him risk an injury.”

Young guys will play

Woodward said that the lineups for the first few games will feature a mix of projected starters, veterans competing for jobs and young players in their first or second camp.

Eventually, there will be a schedule for the players with the best chances for the Opening Day roster. When they exit the game early, that’s when young players will get most of their at-bats.

And it’s going to be top prospects getting the time. There is no minor-league camp this year, so the substitutes will be players in big-league camp.

“I don’t know how many of these guys will actually have days off, where the older group or the starting group, they won’t play every day,” Woodward said.

Rangers pitchers are ...

Left-hander Wes Benjamin got the nod for the opener after Woodward and pitching coach Doug Mathis, who is in charge of the pitchers’ schedule, thought Benjamin was the best candidate among those who will pitch.

Benjamin made his MLB debut last season and allowed three runs in five-plus innings in his only start.

“Wes is a guy that’s started for us and he’s been here,” Woodward said. “I think he absolutely deserves it. We love Wes, and he’s been in this organization a while. It was an easy decision, in my opinion.”

Six right-handers will follow Benjamin, beginning with Drew Anderson. Jason Bahr, Joe Gatto, Nick Vincent, Hunter Wood and Luis Ortiz will follow.

The Royals are starting veteran Ervin Santana.