SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Opening Day is now less than six weeks away. The Texas Rangers will take on the Houston Astros on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball on March 31 as the Astros officially join the American League.
Manager Ron Washington said Sunday that he wasn't ready to announce who would start, but history tells us to bet on Harrison. Why? Since Washington and Maddux have been together, the club has liked to reward the pitcher who performed the best the previous season. That was Harrison, who had 18 wins and an All-Star appearance. He's also the senior member of the rotation in terms of MLB starts.
But there are factors to consider here. The club has an odd schedule since they kick off the season on March 31, a Sunday. They are off April 1, and then again a few days later on Thursday before the opening series at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington against the Los Angeles Angels. So the pitcher who starts on March 31 could pitch on normal rest to open the Angels series. The No. 2 starter could still get a chance to pitch in that series as well on normal rest.
If the club wants to split up the lefties, it could start Harrison and then Darvish with Derek Holland after that. It's unclear how the Angels' rotation would shape up, but Darvish pitched better against them last year than Harrison. He was 3-1 with a 4.23 ERA in six starts (Angels hit .204 off him) and Harrison was 1-2 with a 5.30 ERA in three starts (Angels hit .225 off him).
So I would bet on Harrison getting that start. And in the big picture, it may not matter. I also understand the club wanting to give Harrison a reward for the previous season (besides the contract extension). But what would I do? I'd start Darvish. And it's more about the series after the Angels rather than the first week.
Darvish could pitch the first game of the season in Houston, the first game at home against the Angels and then, on regular rest, the series finale against Tampa Bay. I know that means he wouldn't pitch in a division series in Seattle (instead he'd pitch in Chicago against the Cubs), but I like having the club's top pitcher down the stretch last year going up against two tough teams in Arlington. Plus, Darvish was 1-0 with a 0.60 ERA in 15 innings against the Rays (two starts). He had 18 strikeouts and four walks in that span. Harrison was 0-2 with an 11.32 ERA against the Rays in 2012.
The downside to starting Darvish: It could mean putting lefties Harrison and Derek Holland back-to-back, though that's not set in stone either. It's nice to have two good options to start on Opening Day, isn't it?
What would you do? Should Harrison or Darvish start on Opening Day in Houston?