On June 8, the Rangers probably thought they were pretty smart. Truth be told, I'll bet they were feeling smart for a while. Towards the end of spring training, Tommy Hunter injured his groin, leaving the team in need of a replacement starter. The Rangers turned to righty reliever Alexi Ogando, and Ogando burst out of the gate faster than anyone could have imagined.
Ogando made five starts in April, allowing eight runs. With Hunter struggling in his rehab, Ogando made five starts in May, allowing nine runs. He kept it up into June, and on June 8, Ogando spun 7-2/3 innings against the Tigers, allowing a run while striking out seven.
At that point, Ogando had 12 starts under his belt. His numbers looked like this:
He looked like one of the best starting pitchers in the American League. There was talk about him possibly starting the All-Star Game. On a Rangers ball club that hadn't yet found its desired consistency, Ogando was giving them an excellent chance of winning almost every five days, and the team was 9-3 in his starts.
Then, suddenly, pumpkin. On June 14, Ogando got blasted. On June 19, Ogando looked mediocre. On June 25, Ogando got blasted. Ogando's most recent three starts:
Ogando's season ERA has "spiked" all the way up to 2.87, and now people are wondering if the reliever-turned-starter is encountering the problem you always expect a reliever-turned-starter to encounter: that is, whether he's hit the wall. The Rangers are discussing optioning Ogando to triple-A after his Friday start to give him some rest. There's real concern now that he might be running on fumes.
Here's the thing, though: Ogando sure doesn't look tired. Let's forget about his performance for a moment. Ignore all those runs. What about Ogando's physical indicators?
Fastball velocity through June 8: 94.5mph
Fastball velocity since June 9: 95.1mph
And his release point (courtesy of Texas Leaguers):
Through June 8
Since June 9
Ogando's arm strength has been just fine. There's no sign that he's been dropping his arm while throwing, which is a common indicator of fatigue. Says Ogando himself:
"I feel strong," Ogando said. "I don't feel that I'm weak or losing my strength. I'm trying to do my job. I know that I've had three bad outings. That's not the reason. Physically, I think I'm OK, and I feel strong."
The only sign that Ogando might be wearing down is that he's given up a bunch more runs recently, but that isn't enough. The rest of the evidence suggests that he's simply strung a few bad outings in a row, to which no starter is immune. Certainly no starter like Ogando, who is still new to the whole experience.
Ogando starts on Friday against the Marlins, and regardless of his recent struggles, I expect him to do pretty well. I don't think he'll pitch like an ace, because he isn't an ace-level starter despite his earlier two months of run prevention, but he's good, and good pitchers tend to pitch like good pitchers when they aren't hurt or tired, neither of which Ogando appears to be.
Of course, it wouldn't hurt the Rangers to give Ogando some rest anyway. He is looking at a season's worth of a starter's workload a year after throwing out of the bullpen. That's a tough jump to handle. But I'd view any rest more as preventative and precautionary than anything else. The Rangers are primed to keep playing in October, and should they get there, Ogando's a guy they'll want to have fresh.