Alexi Ogando #41 of the Texas Rangers pitches against the Houston Astros in the first inning at Minute Maid Park on April 3, 2013 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Just a couple of weeks ago, it seemed like a lock that Alexi Ogando would be heading to the bullpen Tuesday night when the Texas Rangers begin their two-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers, and the rehabbed Colby Lewis would make his return to a big-league mound after more than a year away.
Instead, Lewis was shut down to have hip surgery, delaying his big-league return to the 2014 season, and Matt Harrison was removed from his latest rehab start with arm numbness meaning Ogando is safe for the time begin in the Rangers' rotation. Now, he needs to deliver.
Ogando was "better" his last time out, going five innings and allowing just two runs on a first-inning homer. He walked two and struck out four Los Angeles Angels. But he still lasted just five innings, extending his streak to five starts without getting out of the sixth inning.
He's been taxing the bullpen, and since returning from his second DL stint of the year on July 23, Ogando hasn't pitched past the fifth inning and the Rangers have used 18 relief pitchers to finish those four games (thanks to Norm Hitzges for the research).
The good news is, the rest of the Rangers' starters are going deep into games, so if the bullpen is used more heavily every fifth day, they can handle that. But you have to expect some hiccups from time to time from the other guys, and even Yu Darvish isn't the model of efficiency, and it's in those situations where the bullpen could get in trouble.
Ogando has been an effective starting pitcher before. Back in 2011, he was an all-star and then hit a wall late in the season and was moved back to the bullpen for the postseason. Since then, he's had trouble with high pitch counts and getting deep into games.
As it stands now, if the Rangers make the postseason, Ogando will certainly return to the bullpen with Martin Perez assuming the role as the team's No. 4 starter — pitching like a No. 2 at the moment, which is a great problem to have.
Until then, the Rangers could stand to see the Ogando of early 2011 that routinely went at least six innings (his first 12 starts of that season, when he was 7-0) and even had a complete-game shutout.