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Wednesday, March 30, 2005; Page H12

What is it about the Rangers and pitching? No matter who is in charge, year after year, they never seem to address the gaping holes in their pitching staff. This winter was a case in point -- needing at least one more starting pitcher, the Rangers added . . . absolutely nothing.

Okay, we'll grant you the fact the Rangers' pitching staff, under coach Orel Hershiser, finished a surprising fifth in the AL with a 4.53 staff ERA last season. That, combined with the best collection of young hitters in the league, helped the Rangers emerge as an unlikely contender until well into September.

_____ Breakdown _____
SS Michael Young
3B Hank Blalock
2B Alfonso Soriano
1B Mark Teixeira
RF Richard Hidalgo
LF Kevin Mench
DH David Dellucci
CF Laynce Nix
C Rod Barajas
LHP Kenny Rogers
RHP Ryan Drese
RHP Chan Ho Park
RHP Chris Young
RHP Pedro Astacio
RHP Francisco Cordero

Best move: Signing OF Richard Hidalgo to make an excellent lineup even better.
Biggest loss: Losing all-purpose utility man Eric Young to the San Diego Padres via free agency.
Top rival: Houston Astros.

___ Team Capsules ___
NL East
NL Central
NL West
1. Cubs
4. Mets
4. Reds
AL East
AL Central
AL West

But apparently, the Rangers must think veteran Kenny Rogers, their Opening Day starter, is going to win 18 games again. Or that veterans Chan Ho Park and Pedro Astacio will suddenly become good again. Or that Ryan Drese's 14-win season in 2004 was no fluke.

But nobody else thinks that. That's why the Rangers appear set up for a disappointing fall this season, despite their impressive offensive firepower.

There is not a GM in baseball who would not trade infields with the Rangers. (Well, Brian Cashman might want to hang onto at least the left side of his.) They've got mashers around the horn, from Hank Blalock to Michael Young to Alfonso Soriano to Mark Teixeira.

But it is worth asking: Can any of them pitch?

-- Dave Sheinin

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