Rangers' rotation a cause for concern

Lefty Robbie Ross has posted a 1.88 ERA this spring, but he's never been a starter in the big leagues. AP Photo/Mark Duncan

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Texas Rangers' rotation, as currently constructed, should temper any enthusiasm you have about their ability to win the American League West.

After Yu Darvish, every member of the rotation has significant questions attached to him.

It's hard to win like that.

Especially since Opening Day is less than two weeks away, and the Rangers still don't know who's definitely in that rotation beside Darvish and Martin Perez, who had a solid rookie season.

Robbie Ross turned in an excellent performance Thursday, going 523 innings against the Cincinnati Reds and yielding just five hits and one earned run as his spring ERA dipped to 1.88.

He struck out three and walked none. Ross was a starter in the minor leagues, but the Rangers have used the left-hander out of the bullpen the past two seasons.

For now, assume he's earned a spot in the rotation.

The Rangers have no idea how he'll do, especially physically. In his first two big-league seasons, Ross did not pitch more than 65 innings, and he's never pitched more than the 16113 he threw as a minor-league starter in 2011.

Alexi Ogando struggled in his most recent outing. More important, there's no tangible evidence his arm can withstand the rigors of pitching every fifth day.

Ogando is good when he's healthy. The problem, of course, is that he had three stints on the disabled list last year and made just 18 starts.

No one should be surprised if the Rangers move him to the bullpen, where he has the opportunity to be sensational because he can pitch multiple innings and handle batters from each side of the plate.

Joe Saunders and Tommy Hanson have been auditioning for starting jobs. Neither should excite you.

Saunders is a consummate pro, but he hasn't been that good in spring training.

He's allowed 10 hits in seven innings and has a 6.43 ERA this spring. This from a dude who was 11-16 with a 5.26 ERA and allowed 232 hits in 183 innings with the Seattle Mariners last season.

If he's the fifth starter, the one thing we know he'll do is take the ball. He's started at least 28 games each of the past six seasons, including 32 in 2013.

Thirty starts is the magic number.

When the Rangers made their most recent World Series appearance, four of their top five starters made at least 30 starts (and Ogando made 29). Colby Lewis and C.J. Wilson each pitched at least 200 innings.

Last season, Darvish and Derek Holland were only starters with more than 20 starts and 200 innings pitched.

The additions of Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder are great, especially since the Rangers struggled to score last season. But we all know this season will come down to starting pitching.

It always does.

The question is whether the Rangers have enough starters who can keep them in games and let this offense go to work.

The optimists will say Matt Harrison should be ready at the start of May, and the Rangers can manipulate their rotation in April to avoid using a fifth starter that much.

Obviously, Harrison is a quality starter, but the health concerns are real. He missed virtually all of last season with a herniated disk in his back, and he had more back issues early in spring training.

You just can't assume his back will be fine for the rest of the season. We all know backs are tricky.

The same goes for Holland. We know he's a good pitcher, but he had microfracture knee surgery, which usually takes nine months of recovery.

Any talk of him pitching in July seems awfully optimistic. Maybe he does return, but until he pitches, assume he won't.

Tanner Scheppers is due to start Friday, and if he has the kind of strong performance Ross did, don't be shocked if the Rangers put him in the rotation.

The Rangers love his talent, and he might actually be suited to start with his pitch-to-contact approach. Scheppers can reach the upper 90s with his fastball, but it doesn't have a lot of movement, which is why he doesn't strike out many.

Only 59 in 7623 innings last season.

The last time the Rangers were one of baseball's best teams, Wilson, a converted reliever, headed the rotation.

For the Rangers to even make the playoffs this season, they're going to need another converted reliever to be one of the rotation's best starters.