Everybody says that Ron Washington's main asset is that he gets players to play hard, and during the playoffs last year they kept making a big deal about how excited he gets. But reading your story on him being a great teacher, I was wondering if Washington gets enough respect for his baseball expertise?
-- Paul F., Fort Worth
He does within the game. His peers like Mike Scioscia, Ron Gardenhire and Ozzie Guillen have tremendous respect for him. Outside the game? Well, not as much as he should. Look, second-guessing a manager is easy, especially when it comes to in-game strategy. Baseball wouldn't be baseball without it. But a manager who takes a team to two straight World Series must know what he is doing, and if you ever engage Washington in a one-on-one conversation about baseball, you will realize his knowledge is profound.
Unfortunately, that doesn't always come across in public, especially when things go wrong or the network playoff cameras prefer to focus on other things while waxing poetic about the genius of Joe Maddon, Jim Leyland and Tony La Russa. That's just a swing-and-miss on their part.
Why do you keep pushing Michael Kirkman as the leading candidate to be the left-handed reliever? He is not having a good spring and there appears to be more experienced candidates available. Or they could re-sign Mike Gonzalez.
-- Ralph M., Oklahoma City
I'm not trying to push anything, simply reporting what the feeling is among Rangers officials in camp. It is this simple: the Rangers want a left-hander who can get both left- and right-handed hitters out. They don't want a situational guy who can only do lefty versus lefty. The Rangers feel Kirkman has the best stuff of any left-hander in camp to be able to do that. He just needs to show better command of his pitches, and he has shown signs of that in Spring Training.
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Worst-case scenario: Mitch Moreland's issues were not due just to his wrist and he doesn't meet expectations on offense. What are the immediate options at first base and what are the long-term options?
-- Marla H., Arlington
The obvious answer is that Michael Young and Mike Napoli will get significant playing time there, with David Murphy seeing much time at designated hitter. The long-term answer is Mike Olt, the club's No. 3 prospect, who is being used at both first and third base. Most everybody who has seen Olt believes he has a chance to be something special at the Major League level. But Moreland was highly regarded as well, and if he is healthy, he should be the Rangers' long-term answer at first base. He has not forgotten how to hit, and knows how to work a pitcher.
What happens to the rotation if Neftali Feliz's injury lingers? Does that mean Alexi Ogando or Scott Feldman will be a starter? Or do they go get Roy Oswalt?
-- Charlene H., Tulsa, Okla.
Ogando was an All-Star as a starter last year, so he is the obvious answer. But the Rangers might feel he is too valuable in the bullpen and decide to go with Feldman instead. Oswalt remains an option given that some in the organization really want him, but it still seems curious that he remains unsigned even though there are clubs out there that could really use him.
When you indicated that Julio Borbon had the lead in the center-field competition, I worry that you did not consider his lack of situational awareness. He has been picked off first and second already this spring and has a history of poor decisions, like throwing to the wrong base, missing the cutoff man, etc. I do like his basic skillset, but still question if he has an edge on Craig Gentry.
-- Ben G., Tyler, Texas
Young players make mistakes and Borbon has certainly made his share of them. So did Elvis Andrus, but he improved over time with Washington constantly staying after him. The more Borbon plays, the more his situational awareness will improve. He is the leader in Spring Training because he is playing well and Gentry has been hurt. But with Brad Hawpe having trouble getting into the lineup because of hamstring issues and Conor Jackson struggling at the plate, the Rangers may end up keeping both Borbon and Gentry.
With Opening Day just around the corner, now seemed like a good time to contact you about a topic that is very important to my family: your vote for the induction of Joe Macko and Dr. B.J. Mycoskie into the Rangers Hall of Fame. Both of them were employed when the franchise began, and both continue to serve the Rangers to this day. Their love and dedication to this organization is unquestionable.
-- Chris M., Arlington
The Rangers have had many loyal employees over the years who deserve recognition, and both Macko and Dr. Mycoskie are high on the list. Non-playing members of the Hall of Fame are selected internally by the club, not by vote of the media. An educated guess says Eric Nadel will be inducted this year, but the Rangers also need to consider Tom Schieffer, the former club president who teamed with former mayor Richard Greene to be the driving forces behind the construction of the Ballpark in Arlington. Schieffer is most deserving of the honor, as are Macko and Mycoskie.
How are the Rangers' efforts to turn power-hitting Tommy Mendonca, Double-A Frisco's third baseman last season, into a catcher going? And while I don't want to sound cynical, I was wondering if there are any cases of players becoming successful backstops after switching around the same age as Mendonca, who turns 24 next month. It just seems like it would require a lot of time to get used to the job.
-- Aaron R., Dallas
Did you know that Ivan Rodriguez was a third baseman and didn't start catching until his late teens? Gary Carter never caught until he was drafted by the Expos. You are not being cynical; Mendonca is older than most when they began catching. But why would age be a major factor? Yes, it is going to take time for Mendonca to learn all the nuances of the position, but so far it is going well and he really wants it bad.
What if Joe Nathan is ineffective as closer at the start of this season, or becomes injured? Who fills in? Feliz? Mike Adams? Ogando?
-- Jeff S., Rockwall, Texas
If anybody's closer goes down or is ineffective, that team is going to be scrambling to find a replacement. But it happened two years ago to the Rangers when Frank Francisco was ineffective, and Feliz took over without any experience in the role. Presuming Feliz remains in the rotation, Adams would be the logical choice, and he wants to be a closer badly. But the Rangers would probably go with the hot hand at the time.
I have been wanting to buy tickets to Yu Darvish's first regular-season game. Will this game be April 8?
-- Juan C., Fort Worth
Washington is not tipping his hand on this one yet. The Rangers play the White Sox on April 8 and the Mariners on April 9. Darvish could pitch either day, depending on Washington's desire to insert him between left-handers Derek Holland and Matt Harrison. Right now, the lefties are pitching back-to-back, so Darvish's turn would fall on April 9 against the Mariners. The Rangers could switch that, but they are notorious for waiting until the last minute to make such decisions in order to limit the opposition's preparation.
What is a typical day's schedule for the Rangers during spring training?
-- Jim C., Las Cruces, N.M.
The official workout begins with stretching at 9:30 a.m., but "early work" begins at 8 a.m., with pitchers throwing their side sessions in the bullpen or live batting practice. Players are also getting individual defensive instruction and hitters are getting extra swings in the indoor batting cages. The team workout begins with stretching, baserunning and then fundamental work: bunt defense, cutoffs and relays, pickoffs, etc. Washington insists on covering one team fundamental every day.
The workout ends with on-field batting practice, just like you see before a regular-season game. This is also the time that pitching coach Mike Maddux meets with his pitchers for a "skull session" about different aspects of their position. All that ends at 11:30 a.m., followed by lunch and then the Cactus League game. Players also spend time doing conditioning work, especially in the weight room. Conditioning coach Jose Vazquez stays busy all day long.
I am sure the marketing department decided the theme for the year many months ago, but just in case, here is a suggestion: "We've Only Just Begun."
-- Jim S., Cypress, Texas