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Series Preview: Rangers mosey into town

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Traded Rays prospect Nate Lowe has emerged as a fan favorite in Dallas.

The Tampa Bay Rays come off a solid series victory against the division rival New York Yankees and the first major league Honey Day. Brent Honeywell Jr. was as good as one could expect after not pitching in a real game in over three years. Honeywell’s cameo was great and he’ll be back to throw important innings at some point this year even though he was optioned for a fresh arm.

As expected the Texas Rangers have gotten off to a sluggish start with a 3-6 record. The low point came Friday night when they were no hit by Joe Musgrove of the San Diego Padres. Now they head to Tropicana Field to take on the Rays in a four game set.

Matchups

Monday 7:10 PM: Dane Dunning vs Tyler Glasnow
Tuesday 7:10 PM: Kyle Gibson vs Ryan Yarbrough
Wednesday 7:10 PM: Kohei Arihara vs Rich HIll
Thursday 7:10 PM: Jordan Lyles vs TBA

It’s homecoming for the former University of Florida starting pitcher Dane Dunning. Dunning was the primary piece the Rangers received in the Lance Lynn trade from the Chicago White Sox this winter. In 39.0 MLB innings Dunning has a 3.69 ERA/3.90 FIP/3.95 xFIP. He’s posted a 25.6% strikeout rate and 8.1% walk rate. In his first outing of the year he allowed one run on a solo shot by Bo Bichette against the Toronto Blue Jays in 5.0 innings with six strikeouts and zero walks.

Kyle Gibson is the veteran leader of the staff. He’s been a solidly average starter over 1,160.2 innings in his major league career. 2020 was his worst season, when he posted a 5.35 ERA/5.39 FIP/4.36 xFIP. In his first outing of the year he was knocked out in the first inning by the Kansas City Royals. His second start was much better: he held the Blue Jays scoreless over 6.0 innings while striking out eight and walking one.

The 28 year old Kohei Arihara made the transition to Major League Baseball this winter after spending his careerwith the NPB’s Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. Through his first two starts he has thrown 9.0 innings with a 5.00 ERA/4.82 FIP/5.56 xFIP. He’s only struck out two but walked only one. So far, according to his Statcast pitch tracking data, he has thrown seven different pitches: four seam fastball, slider, cutter, sinker, changup, split finger, and curveball. The changeup and splitfinger look like they are different classifications of very similar pitches coming in around 82-84 mph. His fastball sits in the 91-93 mph range. His 87-89 mph cutter has been his most effective pitch so far.

Jordan Lyles is a ten year major league veteran that made his debut in 2011 for the Houston Astros. He has bounced around the league and is in his second season with the Rangers. In 2020 Lyles posted one of his worst seasons in the majors with a 7.02 ERA/5.95 FIP/5.92 xFIP. This year he has been marginally better with 4.50 ERA/6.15 FIP/4.57 xFIP. His first start of the season against the Royals was strong. He allowed two runs in 5.2 innings with aeight strikeouts and no walks. His second start against the Padres wasn’t good. He allowed three runs in 4.1 innings but he had trouble with the longball, walks, and dearth of strikeouts.

The Rays haven’t announced their starter for Thursday. This is the spot vacated by Chris Archer’s placement on the Injured List. Since this has been reported to be a short term vacancy I believe the spot start will come from whoever was scheduled to pitch on that day at the Alternate Site. Any one of Josh Fleming, Shane McClanahan, or Luis Patino are possibilities.

The Rangers bullpen has suffered injuries, comparable to the Rays. Their top reliever Jose Leclerc has undergone Tommy John surgery. Matt Bush, Joely Rodriguez, and Jonathan Hernandez are also on the Injured List. Ian Kennedy is their lone experienced arm left in the bullpen.

Nate Lowe has gotten off to a quick start

The Rangers had a very quiet offseason on the position player side. Their biggest move was trading for the Rays’ Nate Lowe and signing David Dahl to a free agent contract after he was non-tendered by the Colorado Rockies.

Nate Lowe leads the team with three homers and 14 RBI. He’s struck out 35.1% of the time, but is hitting a .235/.297/.529 and putting up a 125 wRC+.

Joey Gallo (.250/.447/.357, 143 wRC+) has had a very good start with a very strong OBP despite the power not showing up in game yet.

Jose Trevino is hitting .391/.417/.435 and has put up a 142 wRC+.

Nick Solak, who was traded from the Rays to the Rangers for Peter Fairbanks, is hitting .219/.324/.313 and has put up a 88 wRC+ but has a 40.5% strikeout so far in this young season.

Jonah Heim is taking advantage of the opportunity to play behind the plate. He hit his first homerun of his MLB career last weekend and is hitting .273/.333/.727 and putting up a 182 wRC+ through 12 plate appearances. Heim was acquired by the Rays from the Baltimore Orioles in the Steve Pearce trade before being traded to the Oakland Athletics for Joey Wendle.

Leody Taveras is a young prospect getting a shot, but hasn’t been able to put the ball in play yet with a 44.4% strikeout rate over 27 plate appearances leading to a .080/.148/.080 line and -30 wRC+.

The Rays need to clean up their sloppy play

The homestand started off well against the Yankees, but defensive miscues crept into play late yesterday afternoon. No team can be expected to be perfect, but the Rays are a run prevention team, and you can’t prevent runs if you give other teams extra outs.

The Rays have a better roster than the Rangers, but it’s very difficult to sweep a four game series. Even winning three out of four is probably running better than expected, but three wins should be the goal.