SURPRISE, AZ - FEBRUARY 27: Yu Darvish #11 of the Texas Rangers pitches in the bottom of the second inning against the Kansas City Royals at Surprise Stadium on February 27, 2014 in Surprise, Arizona. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
That dream pitching matchup we've all been awaiting for months now is in serious question now. Ever since the 2014 schedule was released and we saw the Philadelphia Phillies were visiting the Rangers, it seemed pretty likely that Rangers ace Yu Darvish would square off with former Rangers ace Cliff Lee. Then, it became official. Now, it's in doubt.
Yu Darvish is dealing with neck stiffness and was scratched from a minor-league start last week, throwing a wrench in his preparation for the upcoming season. Now, it seems he might not be ready for that much-awaited Opening Day start.
On Sunday, Rangers manager Ron Washington said the club has begun considering contingency plans for the Opening Day start if Darvish can't be ready, and at this point, getting Darvish ready could be a bit of a stretch.
The Rangers want him to get up to the 90- or 100-pitch limit before making a start, and unless his neck miraculously improves, like today, it's not likely he'll do that in a comfortable situation before the Phillies come to town for a March 31 Opening Day game.
As The Dallas Morning News' Rangers beat writer Evan Grant pointed out, Darvish is a creature of routine and it would force him out of that routine if the Rangers want him ready for Opening Day.
The options to replace Darvish would be left-hander Martin Perez, who is projected to open the season as the No. 2 starter and is scheduled to pitch Monday, or Colby Lewis, who will make a start Wednesday. Lewis could feasibly go from not being in the opening rotation to being the Opening Day starter because the club believes he'd be more mentally ready to handle the pageantry of Opening Day over the 22-year-old Perez. But he'd have to prove he's healthy and effective first, and he has one more chance to do it on Wednesday. That would put him on the normal four days of rest between starts to put him in line to start on Opening Day.