The Rangers announced a series of roster moves Monday, reinstating right-hander Spencer Howard from the 60-day injured list. He will take the active roster spot of right-hander Jonathan Hernández, who has been optioned to Triple-A Round Rock.
To open a spot on the 40-man roster, righty Jacob deGrom was transferred to the 60-day injured list.
At this point, it’s unclear if anything has meaningfully changed in deGrom’s timeline. He has already been on the injured list since April 29 due to inflammation in his throwing elbow and had yet to begin a rehab assignment.
Monday’s transfer officially rules him out until 60 days from that initial IL placement, meaning he could be reinstated as soon as June 28. Even if he were cleared to start ramping up his pitch count Tuesday, he likely would have needed a few weeks to get back to a full starter’s workload anyway.
It’s possible that this is merely a procedural move and that his health status hasn’t changed. If there has been some kind of setback, that information has yet to be publicly revealed. He will have a follow-up MRI this week, per Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News.
Health has been the major question mark surrounding deGrom in recent years. Arguably the best pitcher on the planet when healthy, it’s been quite some time since he remained on the mound for an extended period of time. He logged over 200 innings in each season from 2017-19, but then the pandemic-shortened 2020 season kept him to just 68 frames.
In 2021, he went on the injured list with forearm tightness in July of 2021 and never returned. He then missed the start of 2022 due to a stress reaction in his shoulder blade, returning in August after missing over a year of action.
He was still excellent when on the mound, posting a tiny 2.05 ERA over that 2020 to 2022 stretch, striking out 42.4% of opponents against a 4.5% walk rate. The pandemic was obviously unrelated, but it nonetheless combined with the injuries to limit him to 224 1/3 innings over those three years.
The Rangers made a bet on him by signing him to a five-year, $185M deal this winter. He made six starts for his new club with a 2.67 ERA but has been on the shelf since then with an uncertain outlook.
Howard, 26, has been on the injured list all year after suffering a lat strain during the spring. He recently began a rehab assignment and pitched two scoreless relief outings. Howard had the No. 27 slot on Baseball America’s top 100 list in both 2020 and 2021 while with the Phillies.
Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to put it all together in the big leagues just yet. Coming over to the Rangers in a 2021 deadline deal, he has 111 1/2 major league innings between the two clubs with a 7.09 ERA.
The righty had a chance to establish himself as a future rotation building block last year, as he was one of several younger hurlers given a shot in the Texas rotation. Unfortunately, he spent much of the year either in the minors or on the injured list, only tossing 37 2/3 innings in the majors with a 7.41 ERA.
The club then totally revamped their rotation this winter by re-signing Martín Pérez and acquiring deGrom, Andrew Heaney, Nathan Eovaldi and Jake Odorizzi to slot alongside incumbent Jon Gray.
Odorizzi is done for the year due to a shoulder procedure and deGrom is obviously not an option for a while, but it still seems as though Howard has been pushed out of the rotation mix, at least for now. His recent rehab assignment could have been as long as 30 days and allowed him to get stretched out but he’s instead been reinstated after just a couple of short outings.
That doesn’t mean the book has totally closed on him being a starter but he is in his final option year. With the Rangers’ bullpen having posted a collective 4.47 ERA on the season, perhaps they would like to take some time to see if he can be of use to them in a relief capacity.
One of the struggling members of the relief corps has been Hernández. He posted a solid 2.90 ERA in 2020 but required Tommy John surgery in April of 2021, wiping out that entire season.
He returned last year and was able to make 29 appearances with a 2.97 ERA. Unfortunately, his results have taken a big dip here in 2023, as he currently has a 6.65 ERA through 25 outings.
The remaining months of the season will be important for the righty as he has just one option year left, meaning he’ll be out of options next year as long as he spends at least 20 days in the minors this season. His trajectory for free agency could also potentially be impacted as he came into this campaign with three years and 41 days of service time.
Spending roughly a couple of months in the minors would prevent him from getting to the four-year mark this season and delay his free agency by a year. He could also wind up as a non-tender candidate if he’s out of options and his results don’t improve.