Ogando's role remains tied to durability
Righty wants to -- and has talent to -- be starter, but can he hold up over full season?
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Matt Harrison returned to Arizona on Tuesday to begin a throwing program, while Tommy Hanson has been impressive in the early days of Spring Training.
The Rangers know that Yu Darvish will head their rotation as the Opening Day starter, Martin Perez will be there somewhere after getting his multi-year contract last November, and Colby Lewis, sharp in one scoreless inning during Tuesday's intrasquad game, might surprise everybody now that his chronic right hip is pain free.
All of this hasn't kept the Rangers from exploring the pitching market -- Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders are still available -- but assistant general manager Thad Levine said it's no more than the usual spring due diligence and the payroll has still been pushed to the limit.
So it's still paramount the Rangers sort through what they have in camp, and high on the list is determining exactly what Alexi Ogando is capable of doing for a full healthy season as a starter.
"A healthy Ogando has always been about good location of his fastball," pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "If he maintains consistent health and maintains location, develop a good change and the slider is serviceable, then it's just mixing all three pitches on both sides of the plate. But just commanding the fastball is the baseline for everybody, especially Alexi."
Over the past three seasons, Ogando has made 48 starts and is 19-12 with a 3.40 ERA. He ranks 31st in ERA among 157 pitchers who have made at least 40 starts since the start of the 2011 season. His opponents' batting average of .233 is the 14th lowest.
Ogando also has a 1.17 WHIP, which is walks and hits per one inning pitched. Felix Hernandez, Yu Darvish and Zack Greinke also have a 1.17 WHIP over the past three years. The difference is Hernandez has made 97 starts in that span, and Greinke has made 90.
Ogando is far behind them as he has shuttled between the rotation and the bullpen. Hernandez has also been good for an average of 105.2 pitches per game, while Ogando has averaged 90.2 as a starter.
The obvious point is Ogando has the pure talent to be a starter, but the question is if he has the needed durability to go with it to last an entire season. If not, the Rangers may find he is better off in the bullpen.
"If I continue to feel the way I do now, I can handle the workload and throw 200 innings," Ogando said. "I've been working hard this winter to do just that."
Ogando has always been a tantalizing work in progress ever since the Rangers took him as an outfielder from the Athletics in the Minor League phase of the 2005 Rule 5 Draft, converted him to a pitcher and waited four years while he was serving a suspension for his role in a Dominican Republic visa fraud scandal.
He was 9-3 with a 2.92 ERA in 17 starts in the first half of the 2011 season and made the American League All-Star team. But he faded in the second half, going 4-5 with a 4.48 ERA before ending up in the bullpen for the playoffs. After a lost year in the bullpen in 2012, Ogando went back to the rotation last season and was 7-4 with a 3.11 ERA in 18 starts and five relief appearances. But he was also on the disabled list three times with shoulder and biceps tendinitis.
"One thing you've got to remember about Alexi is he spent most of his youth playing the outfield and didn't really develop the arm of a pitcher," Maddux said.
Ogando took the mound for the first time this spring during Tuesday's intrasquad game on Nolan Ryan Field. He faced four batters, allowing an infield hit and striking out Jared Hoying with the changeup he has been working on this spring.
"I thought Ogando looked really good," Maddux said afterward. "He came attacking, he had good life on his fastball and a really good breaking ball. He had back-to-back changeups to get the strikeout, but that guy had seen his fastball. That complements the changeup."
Maddux is also starting to see the results of Ogando's work during the winter and with Jose Vazquez, the Rangers' strength and conditioning coach. Ogando knows that he is not locked into the rotation. His past success as a reliever makes him a viable option if the Rangers find five other quality starters who outpitch him this spring. He doesn't want that to happen.
"I want to be a starter. ... That's my goal and what I am working hard for," Ogando said.
"Ogando is a pro," Maddux said. "He's not taking anything for granted. He takes great pride in his conditioning and does everything you want. He gives you a great effort. You can see he has come in here with an edge."
Ogando will pitch again on Friday against the Royals, one day after Darvish pitches the Cactus League opener. Rotations can change in a long spring, but right now Ogando is No. 2 behind Darvish.
Ogando has the talent, but he must do it for an entire season.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.