Colby Lewis and the Texas Rangers suffered a tough blow on Wednesday, as the veteran right-hander will be sidelined for up to two months due to a strained lat muscle in his back. Lewis was in the midst of the best season of his career, with a 6-1 record -- his first loss came Tuesday -- and a 3.21 ERA.
Lewis' value in recent seasons has been his ability to soak up innings; he pitched 204 innings last season and ranked sixth in the American League heading into Wednesday, so the Rangers face the difficult task of replacing a guy who had been pitching well and helping relieve some of the stress on the bullpen.
To make matters worse, Yu Darvish is back on the DL, just three starts after his return from Tommy John surgery, and Derek Holland just landed there with shoulder inflammation. If there's good news, it's that the Rangers have a healthy lead in the AL West and A.J. Griffin, who posted a 2.94 ERA in six starts earlier in the season, appears ready to return from his own DL stint with shoulder stiffness and will start Friday. He threw 77 pitches in his third rehab start on Sunday. So that means the Rangers rotation now lines up like this:
Cole Hamels (started Wednesday)
Thursday off day
Nick Martinez (Saturday)
Martin Perez (Sunday)
The top candidate to fill in for Holland might be Kyle Lohse, who has a 5.05 ERA for Triple-A Round Rock in seven starts. Lohse had a 5.85 ERA for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2015, so he's best viewed as an emergency stopgap.
The Rangers have already been rumored to be in the market for a starting pitcher, and this string of injuries will only heat up those ideas. They have position-player depth to deal from, especially if they continue to stick with Prince Fielder and Mitch Moreland as regulars. Joey Gallo is slugging away in Triple-A at a .603 clip but has no place to play in Texas. He'd likely outproduce Fielder or Moreland right now, but manager Jeff Banister is sticking with the veterans. Jurickson Profar has been red hot since his call-up, but now that Adrian Beltre is back, Profar has nowhere to play, either, so he's regulated to a utility role for now.
Beyond that, Delino DeShields Jr., the team's center fielder and leadoff hitter in 2015, is back in Triple-A, although not playing well. On the prospect front, outfielder Lewis Brinson began the season ranked No. 32 on Keith Law's top 100 prospects, but he has struggled in Double-A with a .219/.273/.417 line. Pitcher Dillon Tate, the fourth overall pick last June, has struggled in Class A with a 5.58 ERA, so the Rangers' ability to get a front-of-the-rotation starter -- such as Julio Teheran or maybe Sonny Gray -- has been diminished, unless they're willing to part with Gallo or Profar.
With a 9½-game lead over the Seattle Mariners and Houston Astros heading into their game on Wednesday night, the Rangers have plenty of room to play with, so there's no need to panic. Keep this in mind, however: The Rangers' rotation has a 3.64 ERA but a 4.50 FIP. They have the second-highest left-on-base percentage among major league rotations. So while the rotation has performed very well, there are indicators it was due for some regression, even before these injuries.