The Texas Rangers have been to two World Series in a row, and are in first place in the American League West once more. They've had a strong lineup this whole time, but the Rangers have had powerful offenses before. The key to their success over the last three years, the reason they've been such a strong contender, is their pitching depth. That depth is being tested in 2012, but that's just what depth is for.
Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison are both over 90 innings, and have each made 14 starts. Yu Darvish is set to make #14 on Wednesday night against the Padres. Other than that, there have been some issues. Derek Holland has just 11 starts, as he's been on the 15-day disabled list since since June 6 with left shoulder fatigue. Alexi Ogando made one start in his place, before going on the DL with a groin strain. Neftali Feliz, moved from the bullpen to the rotation, is on the 60-day DL with a UCL sprain in his throwing arm.
The Rangers, who used just seven pitchers to start games in 2011 (with their regular five getting 157 of the starts), have already featured eight different starters in 2012, with 10 of their 69 contests handed to depth options. When Roy Oswalt returns to the majors, that will make nine different starters, assuming everyone else stays healthy until that point. As Grant Brisbee pointed out recently, signing Oswalt very quickly turned into a good idea, and the need for it is a reminder of just how damaged pitching staffs can become in a short time.
This might seem problematic compared to last season, but 2011 was the oddity: teams generally aren't that lucky in terms of pitcher health. In fact, the Rangers were deceptive with their lack of injuries to a degree, as Scott Feldman -- who was supposed to be an option for the rotation out of the pen, given he started in 2010 -- spent most of the year recovering from knee surgery instead, and Tommy Hunter, another 2010 starter, missed 82 games with a groin injury. The regular starters stayed healthy, though, and the depth that had been compromised by injuries was, to the Rangers' good fortune, never necessary when it wasn't around.
This year, the Rangers are seeing injuries from both the regulars and the backups, but they haven't run out of starters just yet. After Ogando -- an important piece of the 2011 rotation who began this year in the bullpen -- went down, it was Justin Grimm who got the call. Grimm was selected in the fifth round of the 2010 draft, and has done nothing but succeed in the minors since. In his 217 innings in the minors, he posted a 3.1 K/BB and 2.85 ERA across three levels, before jumping from Double-A to the majors. Facing Houston in his first major-league start, Grimm struck out seven, walked none, and threw a six-inning quality start. Not bad for the first outing from the eighth starter.
Grimm isn't the end of the line for their depth, either. Robbie Ross, a starter in the minors, has thrown 38 innings out of the bullpen for the Rangers this season. Like Grimm, Ross doesn't wow you with strikeouts, but features control and command that have served him well from Low- through Double-A. His delivery is a better fit for relief in the long run, as he's a high-effort hurler, but if injuries forced the Rangers' hand, Ross could fill in as necessary short-term.
Then, of course, there's Oswalt, who, if healthy, might make the need for Grimm and Ross vanish, assuming the rest of the bunch can stay on the mound.
This, in a way, is similar to the 2010 campaign. The Rangers had a combined 65 starts out of C.J. Wilson and Lewis, but no one else had more than 22. Feldman didn't pitch well in his 22 turns, and while Hunter did, he wasn't part of the rotation until June. Rich Harden was an injury risk, as he almost always is, and notched just 18 starts. Cliff Lee was a huge part of the rotation, but as he was acquired in early July, he logged just 15 starts.
The Rangers used 10 different pitchers to start games in 2010, but the rotation rounded out by year's end, and was together enough to get to the World Series come playoff time, in no small part thanks to the Lee acquisition. The names are different this time around, but the situation is similar: pitchers pitch, and they get hurt, and the key is to have more where those came from at the ready.
The successful execution of that plan won the Rangers 186 games in a two-year stretch, and it's the same reason they are on pace for nearly 100 wins this season, in spite of all of the injuries. Teams can only have so much pitching, due to roster constraints in both the majors and minors, but within the bounds of the 40-man roster, as the Rangers know and have reminded us of, a team can never have enough pitching.