3 Things I Learned at Texas Rangers Camp: Pitching, Leadership, More

From the strength of starting pitching to a special guest in camp, here are the things that made an impact at Tuesday's Texas Rangers camp.

Nathan Eovaldi
PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 23: Nathan Eovaldi #17 of the Texas Rangers pitches during the first inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on May 23, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

SURPIRSE, Ariz. — Bruce Bochy and the defending World Champion Texas Rangers had a special guest in camp on Tuesday as Hideki Kuriyama, who guided Team Japan to the World Baseball Classic title last year, paid a visit to the Rangers complex.

While there is still plenty of buzz in Surprise after the Rangers captured a title of their own in November, having Kuriyama in camp was a plus for the Texas coaching staff, manager Bruce Bochy said.

“You’re going to learn from everybody and he’s had a tremendous career, including WBC champion. We’re glad to have him here,” Bochy said. “I’ve been to Japan twice with teams and I know one thing, they’re very, very good at the fundamentals. They execute as well as anybody because they work very hard on them.”

Bochy and the Rangers not only hosted Kuriyama for pregame meetings, but also had him in the dugout during the game against the Cleveland Guardians. Bochy predicted the duo would be asking each other questions throughout the game as a way for the veteran managers to exchange knowledge.

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Nathan Eovaldi praises New York Yankees legends for helping him learn

Now 34 and in his second season with the Rangers, Eovaldi is considered a leader for the Rangers, on the mound and in the clubhouse. Entering his 12th MLB season, the right-hander will be one of the biggest weapons on the mound the Rangers when they host the Chicago Cubs for Opening Day on March 28.

With that veteran status also comes a duty to help some of the younger players on the Texas roster find their way in the big leagues, and Eovaldi took a few minutes on Tuesday to tip his cap to some of his former teammates in the Bronx, who helped shape his career during his pair of seasons (2015-16) with the Yankees.

“When I was in New York, A-Rod (Alex Rodriguez) and (Carlos) Beltran, they helped slow the game down,” Eovaldi said. “They helped explain it to me. CC Sabathia was the same way. It was all about pointing out the little things that I never even paid attention to, like pointing out when guys weren’t even running on a 3-2 count. You have to always be aggressive. The little things in the game are what make a big difference.”

“It’s nice to be able to pass along some of that information. As pitchers, when we’re out on the mound, we’re attacking and we have a game plan when we go out there. Sometimes you’re going to stick to that, but you might be something a little different and you have to change that game plan. He may show you a different weakness that you didn’t see before that time. When you see it and learn it, you can expose that a little bit more.”

Jon Gray thinks Rangers rotation is “underrated”

While the Texas rotation may be without Tyler Mahle, Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom to start the season, Gray believes that people may be overlooking the starting pitchers the Rangers will roll out to open the campaign.

Gray is part of a group that is projected to include him and Eovaldi at the top, with Andrew Heaney, Dane Dunning and Cody Bradford expected to fill in the middle and back end.

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With injuries and the loss of Jordan Montgomery, the Texas rotation certainly has a different look than the one that conquered the postseason in 2023, but Gray believes this group can more than weather the storm until those injured pitchers listed above can return.

“I think our rotation right now is a little bit underrated, honestly,” Gray told me. “Dane, Cody Bradford, those guys had really good years last year, as did Evo (Eovaldi). I think those guys are getting overlooked a little bit. I think they’re pretty solid. I know we’re going to get help down the road, but I think they’re a little bit better than people give them credit for.”

“I still think we can lead the division in some pitching stats. I really do.”

Gray made 29 starts last season, posting a 4.12 ERA/4.47 FIP/1.290 WHIP in 157.1 innings. He was also one of the unsung heroes for the Rangers in the World Series, throwing 4.2 combined innings in relief in Games 1 and 3, striking out seven and allowing just two hits.

You can hear more from Gray in Monday’s edition of the Clubhouse Chatter podcast. You can check out previous episodes of the podcast here.