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Ragtag rotation won't cut it

HOUSTON -- When Yu Darvish pitches, the Texas Rangers usually win. When any other pitcher takes the mound, they usually lose.

It happened again Wednesday night as the feeble-hitting Houston Astros rallied from a four-run deficit to beat Texas 5-4 at Minute Maid Park.

You shouldn't expect that trend to change this season. Not after the club revealed the sobering news Wednesday afternoon that starting pitchers Matt Harrison and Martin Perez probably will miss the rest of the season.

"It's a big blow to us. That's two guys we were depending on," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "Harrison worked awfully hard to get back, and it was just a freak thing that happened to Perez.

"We'll just keep battling, keep seeing what resources we have and keep running them out there and we'll get better before it's over with."

Harrison, 28, who missed virtually all of last season after having surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back, left Tuesday's game with back stiffness after just 1 2/3 innings.

He needs potentially career-ending spinal fusion surgery to repair and eliminate the discomfort from a displaced vertebra, which at the very least would force him to miss the season. Or, he can try to rehab the injury and pitch through the pain.

The 22-year-old Perez has a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow. He will either try to rehab the injury, which might allow him to return in 10 to 12 weeks, or he'll need season-ending surgery.

The club is 6-1 when Darvish pitches and 14-20 when anyone else takes the mound.

It's time to get back some of those prospects the Rangers have used as currency to chase a championship the past few seasons.

Unless Darvish starts every game, this season is over.

General manager Jon Daniels will disagree vehemently. So will Washington, along with the players.

They must.

Three-quarters of the season remains. What else are they going to say? Hey, the Rangers will play hard every game, like they've done since Washington arrived.

But the game -- as it always has been -- is about pitching, and the Rangers don't have enough of it.

Washington has two starters he can trust: Darvish and Colby Lewis, who's coming off hip surgery.

Darvish said he's not putting any pressure on himself to carry the rotation.

"The only thing I can do is stay healthy and stay in the rotation the whole season," he said through an interpreter. "No matter what happens in my surroundings, I focus on staying in the rotation."

Lewis pitches on guts and guile. He's a wonderful example to the staff's youngsters on how to pitch -- not just throw hard -- but he's made six starts and hasn't pitched six innings yet.

Derek Holland, who had microfracture knee surgery in January, will be evaluated in Arlington this weekend. He's also scheduled to throw a simulated three-inning game this weekend.

Whenever he returns to the rotation, Holland will be another pitcher Washington trusts.

But none of us has any idea how Holland's body will respond until it does, just like we had no idea how Harrison's back would respond to the rigors of pitching every fifth day ... until it didn't.

The Rangers can't place any expectations on Holland; they just need to wait and see what he can give the team.

The Rangers' broken-down rotation has had a trickle-down effect on the bullpen. The rotation has produced just 13 quality starts -- a six-inning start with three runs or less allowed -- which has taxed the bullpen. Only the Baltimore Orioles (12) have fewer quality starts.

In the last 16 games, Robbie Ross Jr. is the only starter not named Darvish to pitch six innings, and that performance didn't even qualify as a quality start.

"Every time you lose one of your pitchers or players it hurts," said Washington, "But it gives opportunity to other people, and we expect them to step up."

The bullpen blew its sixth save against Houston; it blew 10 saves all of last season.

Injuries to Holland, Harrison and Darvish (neck) in spring training were among the reasons Tanner Scheppers and Ross moved into the rotation.

Each was a key bullpen piece last season. The Rangers also expected former closer Neftali Feliz to play a key bullpen role this season, but he struggled in spring training and has spent the season in Triple-A.

Without those bullpen pieces, Alexi Ogando, Jason Frasor and Neal Cotts have pitched in unfamiliar roles. Scheppers locked down the eighth inning last season, going 6-2 with a 1.88 ERA in 76 appearances.

The Rangers have struggled to get the ball to closer Joakim Soria, who is 7-for-7 in save opportunities.

"What I expect from my rotation hasn't changed," Washington said. "There may be different bodies, but I expect the same thing: Keep us in the ballgame.

"That's it. Give us a chance. They do that, they're doing their job."

That's not really asking much, but it's still too much for this patchwork rotation.