Mailbag: What can fix the pitching?

Mailbag: What can fix the pitching woes?

With the underachievement of Rangers starters, I haven't seen any analysis or comment on pitching coach Mark Connor. Do you think he is part of the problem?
-- Tom K., Hong Kong

There are two elements to the Rangers pitching staff: rotation and bullpen. Does Connor get credit for the bullpen or the blame for the rotation?

Let's talk rotation. The biggest problem with the rotation is that Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla are struggling. Connor was their pitching coach last year when they won 31 games.

Secondly, their young pitchers have not come as quickly as the Rangers had hoped, although Brandon McCarthy was getting his act together when the blister problem came up. Robinson Tejeda has had his successes and setbacks, but Connor was Tejeda's pitching coach when he was on a roll at the end of last season and the beginning of this season.

Basically, the young starting pitchers are going through the trials and tribulations that most young pitchers do. Sure there are some quick successes like Brandon Webb, Barry Zito and Tim Hudson. But there are many others who take longer to get it going.

Tejeda has made 40 Major League starts with a record of 13-15 with a 4.53 ERA. Believe it or not, Randy Johnson was 13-15 with a 4.54 ERA in his first 40 career starts. Seriously. But there is only one Randy Johnson.

So check out these other Major League pitchers and how they did in their first 40 Major League starts:

Bartolo Colon -- 14-13, 3.99
John Lackey -- 16-13, 4.51
Roy Halladay -- 11-13, 5.73
Chris Carpenter -- 16-15, 4.52
Josh Beckett -- 13-15, 3.63
Jason Schmidt -- 12-13, 4.54
Ben Sheets -- 15-17, 4.48

The bottom line is you can easily blame Connor. The Rangers excel at blaming people and firing people. The media and fans are good at it too. That's a national pastime around here. Things go wrong, blame somebody and find the fall guy.

Or you can try to understand that it takes time to develop a good, young pitching staff and that a hard-working, knowledgeable pitching coach might be part of the solution.

Will the Rangers trade Sammy Sosa once he gets his 600th home run? I would think you can get something good for him.
-- Ralph T., Fort Worth

I don't see trading Sosa, unless it would be to the New York Mets. That's something to watch. Otherwise, it's hard to envision.

First of all you have to assume that it would be an American League team so he could be a DH. But who? The Red Sox have David Ortiz, the Indians have Travis Hafner, the Tigers have Gary Sheffield, the White Sox have Jim Thome and the Athletics are getting Mike Piazza back. The Angels use Vladimir Guerrero too much at DH.

I definitely could see Mets general manager Omar Minaya being interested in Sosa if his outfield problems continue, but it's doubtful that another NL team would be interested unless it's as a platoon player or pinch-hitter. Then the Rangers wouldn't get much in return.

But watch out for the Mets.

There has always been a lot of clamoring for Jason Botts to get some at-bats. How does he actually rate as a prospect, and do the Rangers see him in their future as a first baseman, designated hitter or anything?
-- Matt T., Arlington

Botts' future is as a designated hitter. Pure and simple. You can't add a DH-only player to the current mix. It won't work. The defense suffers already. You can talk about getting Botts some at-bats in the second half, but ultimately the Rangers have to address their outfield situation. They desperately need athletic outfielders, which is why they wanted Nelson Cruz from the Brewers.

If Mark Teixeira is traded away, does Jason Botts have the ability to play first or will Nate Gold get a chance?
Ben S. Carrollton, Texas.

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Gold can play first and he is hitting .303 with nine home runs and 46 RBIs at Triple-A Oklahoma. At some point soon, the Rangers are going to be confronted with the same question with Gold as they were with Botts and Cruz. Are they willing to give a young player an extended chance and accept some of the struggles that go with it or are they going to keep plugging holes with veteran free agents?

Has anyone tried to get Padilla to work more quickly when he's on the mound so he and his fielders don't lose focus?
-- Mike E., Austin

Working quickly is one of the main messages that the Rangers pound into their pitchers. Not all heed the call.

It seems to me that, although the players need to start playing better if they want to salvage this season, Tom Hicks needs to start trying harder as an owner to help this team. Every off-season you hear about how he is going after top notch pitchers, yet he never gets them. Could it be because he isn't working hard enough to get them?
-- Josh, Godley, Texas

Millwood was one of the top pitchers in the 2005-06 off-season and Hicks signed him for $60 million. Barry Zito, who is 6-7 with a 4.41 ERA, was one of the top pitchers in last year's market and turned down $99 million from the Rangers to stay on the West Coast. They signed Padilla for $33.75 million. The last few years have not produced great classes of free agent starting pitchers. Instead they have been marked by high risk guys like Gil Meche and A.J. Burnett.

Remember, one of the main reasons why the Rangers won those three division titles in the late '90's is because Doug Melvin did a superb job of trading for starting pitching: Aaron Sele, John Burkett, Bobby Witt (re-acquired), Rick Helling (re-acquired), Tim Crabtree, Todd Stottlemyre, Esteban Loaiza and others. Ken Hill was an excellent free agent sign. Kevin Gross was not.

I wonder if the Ranger organization has a prototype player that they are looking for at each position, or an overall type player they look for? I would think that pitchers that are left-handed and throw a sinker would fit nicely at the Ballpark, and that left-handed hitters would also help.
-- Eddie Thompson, Sherman, Texas

The Rangers know the Ballpark is better suited for left-handed hitters and pitchers. That's why I still think C.J. Wilson will end up in the rotation and maybe A.J. Murray in the long run.

Why can't the Rangers bring up Eric Hurley? I would rather see him fall on his face and learn as opposed to what I have seen this year.
-- Gerald T., Keller, Texas

You're right. We need more pitchers falling on their faces around here.

What about trading Teixeira for John Danks?
-- Barrett D., Dallas

No mas! No mas!

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.