Alexi Ogando pitched yesterday. The Rangers lost 12-1 to the Angels, against a split-squad lineup no less.
After a quick and easy 1st inning in which he threw only 13 pitches, Ogando ran into trouble in the 2nd inning as the Angels scored 5 runs. All told, Ogando pitched 3.1 innings on 63 pitches.
The argument has long been that Ogando is better suited for bullpen work than a rotation role, and it's a point that doesn't go without merit. Various arm injuries and fatigue have tended to set him back at times after taking on the increased workload that comes with starting. In 2013, it seemed that he was constantly on the DL, and the moment he came back, he was gone again.
However, at least for the time being, the Rangers need him in the rotation. He is one of a few pitchers that have significant Major League experience as a starting pitcher, and I'm not sure the Rangers want to rely on any combination of Tommy Hanson or Joe Saunders as well as an inexperienced pitcher to start the season.
In looking at Ogando's outing yesterday, it appeared, at least on the surface, to be a microcosm of his 2013 campaign. Most notably, the velocity we've come to expect from Ogando was mostly missing.
At this point during Spring Training, velocity seems to be a hot topic of conversation, and I even talked a bit about Neftali Feliz on Tuesday. However, in Ogando's case, the velocity on his fastball isn't completely missing, but perhaps more sporadic.
Below, we can see Alexi Ogando's average fastball velocity from the beginning of 2011 through his Spring Training outings thus far:
2011, of course, was Ogando's first full Major League season, one in which he began the season in the rotation and found himself selected as an All-Star. When you compare his average fastball velocity on the chart to that of 2013, you can see that there is a quite a desparity. Looking at the Spring so far, it doesn't look much better.
Ogando is 30 years old, which just so happens to be the same age as Tim Lincecum, another pitcher that has utilized a violent delivery and seen a drop in velocity as of late. With that said, I'm not ready to lump Ogando into the "lost velocity" category just yet.
During the first two innings yesterday, Ogando was sitting in the 93-95mph range with his fastball, and for an inning, it worked out pretty well. When it fell apart in the 2nd, Ogando's command was erratic, yet he still sat in that velocity range. By the time the 3rd inning rolled around, Ogando never threw another fastball above 91mph. In fact, he was actually sitting closer to a range of 88-90mph.
While the Rangers certainly have experience with pitchers that have succeeded without a high fastball velocity -- we're looking at you, Colby Lewis -- Alexi Ogando is almost assuredly not that type of pitcher. Sure, he's not going to consistently hit 98 on a radar gun like he would in a bullpen role, but for Ogando to be effective, he absolutely needs to have his mid-90's fastball working.
The problem, as I see it, appears to be that Ogando's command comes and goes. When it goes, he has to dial back the intensity quite a bit just to get the ball over the plate. In 2013, that very scenario kept him from getting deep into games as his pitch counts soared by the 5th inning in most games.
Looking at it, we can almost certainly say that Alexi Ogando is better-suited for a bullpen role moving forward. It may be tough for him to stay fully healthy as a starter due to a violent and hard-to-repeat delivery. However, right now, the Rangers need him to start. It may only be Spring Training, but Ogando needs to use the remaining time to find ways to keep his command and get hitters out. After all, isn't Spring Training really all about getting into baseball shape and figuring things out?