SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Derek Holland is still walking with the aid of crutches and won't be joining his fellow Texas Rangers in spring training for another two weeks. In the meantime, they'll miss him for his energy, good cheer, desperate attempts at facial hair, offbeat life observations, competitiveness, 213 strikeouts and 3.3 wins above replacement last season.
"He's definitely one of a kind," said Rangers rotation-mate Matt Harrison.
In the aftermath of some bad news surrounding Holland, the Rangers will try to make do with a positive outlook and strength in numbers.
It's been five weeks since Holland set a standard for bizarre offseason injury high jinks. General manager Jon Daniels was at dinner with new bench coach Tim Bogar and their wives when his phone rang and trainer Kevin Harmon was on the other end with a shocker: Holland had tripped and fallen while running up a flight of stairs with his boxer, Wrigley, and suffered a knee injury that would have to be repaired through surgery.
Daniels gathered the brain trust, and the Rangers briefly considered taking the plunge on Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana or one of the other free agents still left on the market. But they'd already spent a ton of money to upgrade the offense this winter, and they decided the internal options were plentiful and strong enough to refrain from making a knee-jerk run at a big name.
"We talked about it, sure," Daniels said Monday from a back field at Surprise Stadium. "You've got to look at those things. But we have a lot of confidence in our staff and the guys who are here now. If we have a need during the season, we can address it then. But we believe in this group. That's really what it came down to."
While the buzz in Surprise is building over Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo and their impact on the Texas offense, the most intriguing questions surround the rotation, where the Rangers are hoping some pieces fall into place behind American League strikeout champion Yu Darvish and they have enough depth in the rotation to be OK until Holland returns in July.
If the season began today, Harrison, Martin Perez and Alexi Ogando would probably assume the three spots behind Darvish. Perez went 10-6 with a 3.62 ERA as a rookie, but the Rangers want him to approach this spring with the mindset that he needs to earn a job and he shouldn't take anything for granted. Ogando made the All-Star team as a starter in 2011, but faded noticeably after the break and needs to show that he can hold up over 30 starts.
Harrison, an 18-game winner and an All-Star in 2012, made two starts last year before undergoing three different surgical procedures for a back injury and thoracic outlet syndrome. Now he's been medically cleared to go full bore, and can barely contain his enthusiasm. "I was just telling somebody, this is one of the few spring trainings I've actually looked forward to going to," Harrison said.
Beyond that, it's a grab bag of candidates. Robbie Ross and Tanner Scheppers, both valued members of the bullpen, will get a chance to start in the Cactus League. Nick Tepesch and Michael Kirkman are in the mix. Tommy Hanson, trying to regain the form he showed before shoulder problems did a number on his career outlook, just signed a one-year deal with the Rangers, and Jose Contreras is here for another go-round at age 42 (or whatever).
Colby Lewis, 34, might be poised to craft the most improbable success story of all, after surgery to repair a hip injury that kept him out of the big leagues for all of 2013. "He pitched in World Series games when he couldn't even bend over to tie his shoes," Daniels said. "He's doing full squats and stuff he hasn't been able to do in years."
It'll be a challenging spring for pitching coach Mike Maddux trying to divvy up the innings. But in a way, it's refreshing to see what might transpire. The Oakland Athletics have thrived in recent years while giving chances to Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin, Sonny Gray and other young pitchers in the pipeline. Nobody was talking much about Scheppers last spring, and he wound up logging a 1.07 WHIP and a 1.88 ERA in 76 appearances out of the bullpen. Who's to say that he or Ross can't be a successful starter?
Rangers manager Ron Washington digested the Holland news with the obligatory stoicism: From bizarre circumstances, he believes, opportunities can emerge.
"When I heard that, the first thing I said was, 'How soon will it take for him to get it taken care of?'" Washington said. "At least he can recover from it. Now someone else has to step up. You can put yourself in the doldrums when catastrophes happen, or you can look at it on the positive side. Someone else will get an opportunity. And when Holland is ready, we have a real good piece coming back."
The Rangers have a prospect-laden rotation headed by Alex Gonzalez and Luke Jackson in Double-A Frisco that could provide a reinforcement arm sometime this summer. And the odds say the surplus of candidates in big league camp this spring is going to produce a pleasant surprise or two.
"You're never comfortable, but someone will emerge," Washington said. "There's no doubt about it. All of those guys can't be horses---."