Commentary

Rangers keep Ryan behind in the count

Transfer of ownership, on-field struggles not easily solved with his patented fastball

Updated: April 22, 2010, 11:15 AM ET
By Jim Reeves | ESPNDallas.com

There was a time in his life when just about the only thing Nolan Ryan worried about was pitching.

Even blessed with an abundance of God-given natural talent, he worked hard to keep the edge he needed to compete with major league hitters, and the workout regimen he developed to keep himself at the top of his game was legendary.

Things aren't quite so simple anymore.

As a potential soon-to-be-owner of the Texas Rangers, life is a lot more complicated than it was in those days when he could concentrate on his own performance every five days.

Oh, he still worries about pitching, naturally, only now it's not his pitching that concerns him. It's whoever happens to be struggling in a Rangers uniform that preys on his mind these days.

(Can you say Frankie Francisco?)

That and other pressing issues, including the continuing drama surrounding the transfer of ownership from Tom Hicks to Chuck Greenberg, Ryan and their partners, who are anxiously awaiting the opportunity to take full control of the Rangers' future.

"It's in Major League Baseball's hands," Ryan said Wednesday as he drove back to his office at The Ballpark in Arlington from lunch. "I guess it comes down to the commissioner making a decision now, and I'm not informed enough to know what all his options are."

The sale was seemingly moving forward, but Hicks expressed concerns Wednesday, declaring that there is an "impasse" with a lender that has not agreed to the sale price.

"The assurance I have is that the deal will go through, we just have to work through this," Ryan said. "I don't have an uneasy feeling that it's not going to happen; it's just been delayed longer than anyone thought it would be."

Greenberg and Ryan had hoped the situation would be settled by Opening Day. Then the target date was mid-April. Now, no one seems sure when it might happen.

"Tom's lenders aren't accepting the deal, that's what I understand," Ryan said. "They don't feel like it's in their best interests to accept it the way it is right now."

In other words, Hicks' creditors aren't satisfied that they're getting enough of a payback on the money they're owed after he put the franchise eyeball deep in hock. My understanding is that the Greenberg and Ryan group isn't going to pony up any more money -- they've already agreed to a fair price for the franchise with Hicks -- so where more cash is supposed to come from isn't clear. Then again, my financial acumen admittedly pretty much starts and stops at Park Place and Boardwalk.

A spokesperson for commissioner Bud Selig, who was in meetings all day Thursday, said the situation is complicated.

Bankruptcy, something everyone seems to be trying to avoid, is a last option along with MLB taking over and running the franchise, but the primary goal remains finalizing the sale to Greenberg and Ryan.

In the meantime, Ryan does have Francisco to worry about as well.

The back end of the bullpen was supposed to a Rangers strength. Ron Washington had Darren O'Day and Darren Oliver for the sixth and seventh innings, Neftali Feliz to blow away people in the eighth and the veteran Francisco to lock down the ninth.

Guess again.

Francisco has been anything but a lock in whatever role the Rangers have tried him and his struggles have put Washington and the Rangers in a bind. It was obvious Tuesday night that the Rangers' manager has lost trust in Francisco when he left left-hander Oliver in to face two right-handed hitters leading off the Red Sox eighth.

Double, home run, game tied. Francisco, with no idea where the strike zone might be, lost it in the ninth.

[+] EnlargeFrank Francisco
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesNolan Ryan would like to see Frank Francisco hone his consistency through multiple innings of work.

Fact is, Francisco hasn't been the same since coming off the disabled list last season following bouts with biceps and right shoulder tendinitis. His velocity has never quite recovered, and because he did not pitch winter ball he has lost any command of his fastball.

The Rangers are now in a position where they have no choice but to try to wait for non-pressure opportunities for Francisco while O'Day and Oliver are pressed into service in the eighth and Feliz closes. That weakens the Rangers' bullpen in virtually every area.

"He probably needs to throw more and try to get some consistency in his delivery," Ryan said. "He probably needs to work multiple innings. Right now he has no command and he's all over the place. That makes it worse.

"I know they're working on trying to get consistency in his delivery. In my opinion, the more he can throw the better chance he'll have of correcting it. It's a matter now of finding innings and putting him in a situation of where he can focus on his delivery and just throwing strikes."

It's even entirely possible that it will take a trip to Oklahoma City, where Francisco can work out his problems without having it affect the big league club quite so dramatically, but Ryan isn't ready to go there yet.

"We went into spring training thinking the depth of our pitching was as deep as it's ever been, then [Tommy] Hunter goes down, and O'Day has a tender elbow, and Frankie's not throwing well," Ryan said. "You look around and go, 'What happened?'"

At least, unlike the problems with the sale, this is something Ryan feels like he has some control over, something he can do besides twiddling his thumbs and waiting for the commissioner's office to act.

There was a time when reaching back for a 98 mph fastball solved most of Ryan's problems.

Things are just a lot more complicated these days.

Jim Reeves, a former columnist with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is a regular contributor to ESPNDallas.com.

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