Richard Durrett blogs the Rangers for the Dallas Morning News the same way Pete Abraham does for the Journal News. So I was obviously very excited when he got in touch, and we swapped some questions.
Be sure to check out my answers to his questions over at DMN.
For your edification:
PA: What's changed for the Rangers from a .488 winning percentage in '08 to a .560 team this year?
RD: Pitching. The team ERA is down nearly a run and a half from last season. The starters are going deeper into games (though they have tired more the last week and haven’t been going as deep as they have all season) and the bullpen, considered a question mark before the season began, has done a nice job. Rangers president Nolan Ryan preached to pitchers the idea of getting one more out or going one more inning. The club hasn’t worried as much about pitch counts and they seem to be in better physical condition. That’s why, despite a season where the bats haven’t been as productive as you’d expect from the Rangers, they are still in contention for the postseason.
PA: Why aren't the Rangers the media darlings that the Rays were last season?
RD: I think the national media are waiting for the Rangers to collapse. It seems that many Rangers fans are waiting for that too. But this is a good team that fights hard every game. It might be different if the Rangers were leading the Angels in the AL West. But because they’ve fighting for the wild card and not the division, that may hurt in gaining national attention. I still think that if the Rangers are in this race in mid September that you’ll see more folks writing about them and taking them seriously. They have a bright future.
Follow the jump for all you want to know about Elvis.
PA: We've seen Michael Young. Can you give me a scouting report on the man he was moved for, Elvis Andrus? Was it the right move?
RD: Elvis Andrus turns 21 on Wednesday. He acts like he’s 31. I thought when the club decided before this season to put Andrus at shortstop that we’d see a guy that really struggled with the bright lights as most rookies do. But not Andrus. He’s a high quality defender that makes highlight-reel plays on a near daily basis. He has tremendous range, making the entire infield better. He’s managed to hit better than expected at around .260. If he were to get that average up, you’d hear his name mentioned more in rookie of the year discussions. By moving Young to third, the Rangers made the defense better as well. Young has good hands and has learned the position quickly. His batting average and leadership have made that corner spot much more productive than last year after Hank Blalock got injured.
PA: Walk us through the bullpen; what should we expect?
RD: Middle relief is a grab bag at this point, except for Neftali Feliz. The youngster has just one walk in his first 14 1/3 innings alongside 19 strikeouts. He’s been amazing and Rangers fans are really excited about his future. It’s not unlike the stuff surrounding Joba Chamberlain when he came up in 2007. If the starters can get the game to the 7th inning, the Rangers bullpen has done the job. You’ll see Darren O’Day, a sidearm righty, come in. He struck out all three batters he faced in Tampa Bay on Sunday. CJ Wilson is the primary eighth-inning setup man (though if the lineup was lefty heavy in the seventh or ninth, you could see him). He has great stuff, but will make things interesting at times by walking guys or putting runners on. Frank Francisco is one of the top closers in the game when healthy. And right now it appears he’s healthy coming off the DL a few weeks ago. He throws hard, locates well and is aggressive.
PA: Which Ranger do you think would be a superstar if only he played in NY?
RD: Elvis Andrus might be one of those. His defense really is fun to watch. Michael Young is another, but I’d like to think fans think of him as a superstar now. Neftali Feliz could be that guy. I can only imagine if Feliz was throwing his triple-digit fastballs in front of Yankees fans and striking out Red Sox hitters. He’d be a hero right now.
PA: Who is the team MVP?
RD: Michael Young. He’s a leader on and off the field. And his stats show that he’s still amazingly consistent and productive at the plate. He’s on pace to get 200 hits for the 6th time in his career. That’s certainly impressive. He has all the intangibles. He’s the MVP.
PA: We know Josh Hamilton's story; who has the second best story on the team?
RD: Wow. That’s tough. I guess one that few folks know about is Derek Holland, a guy you’ll see Wednesday. He was drafted to little fanfare in the 25th round in 2006. But he really started opening eyes at Double-A Frisco. Holland pitched a community college in Alabama and wanted to go to Ohio State. But they wouldn’t offer him a scholarship (he’s now a Michigan fan). He’s a good kid and a guy who was a real late bloomer in terms of velocity and confidence. Check out this story in the Dallas Morning News that ran on Sunday about him. It’s interesting.