HOUSTON -- The Rangers had two pitchers make significant starts in the Minor Leagues on Wednesday: Colby Lewis at Triple-A Las Vegas and Neil Ramirez at Double-A Frisco. Lewis is on the road back from last year's flexor tendon surgery, and Ramirez is on the road back to re-establishing himself as a legitimate pitching prospect.
Lewis, in his first start on medical rehabilitation assignment, threw 41 pitches over two innings at Las Vegas. Lewis pitched a scoreless first inning, then allowed three runs in the second. He still felt strong and threw another 12 pitches in the bullpen afterward to get extra work. His velocity averaged 87 mph, with a high of 89. Lewis averaged 89-90 mph with his fastball in 2010-11.
"I felt pretty good ... teetered off a little bit in the second inning," Lewis said. "I think I just need to continue to go out there and build my pitch count up, but my stuff was good. I threw a little more in the bullpen just to push my body, but nothing crazy."
Ramirez was one of five first-round and supplemental-round picks by the Rangers in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, and the only one still with the organization. Pitchers Blake Beavan, Michael Main and Tommy Hunter and outfielder Julio Borbon have all moved on to other teams.
Ramirez was 8-13 with a 6.28 ERA in 28 games last season with Round Rock and Frisco, but is off to a great start this season. He allowed one run in 6 2/3 innings in a win over Corpus Christi on Thursday nigh,t and is 3-0 with a 2.75 ERA in seven starts. Opponents are hitting .155 off him, and he has struck out 44 in 36 innings.
"He has been good all year," Frisco manager Steve Buechele said. "It's not just the stuff. He seems more relaxed and more confident. He's a different person, as well as a different pitcher. Everybody has seen the stuff from Neil over the years. But nobody has seen it consistent like we have, and that's a nice step for Neil."
Soto assumes top catching duties with A.J. out
HOUSTON -- Rangers catcher Geovany Soto was hitting .212 going into Friday's game with the Astros. But he did have four hits in his last 14 at-bats, so maybe getting more consistent playing time and at-bats will help the average to keep climbing.
That's the situation Soto finds himself in after the Rangers officially placed catcher A.J. Pierzynski on the disabled list Friday. Soto will be Texas' No. 1 catcher until Pierzynski recovers from a strained oblique muscle in his right ribcage.
"It's unfortunate what happened to A.J.," Soto said. "Nobody wants to see that. But I've been working hard and staying in shape and getting my swings when I need to, so that when I do play, I can do the best I can. Obviously the more repetitions you get and the pitchers you see, the better you're going to be."
Soto was the National League Rookie of the Year in 2008, and was the Cubs' No. 1 catcher for most of five seasons before being traded to the Rangers on July 31. He re-signed with Texas on Dec. 3 with the anticipation of getting a chance to be the club's top catcher. But that was scuttled on Dec. 26 when the Rangers signed Pierzynski to be the No. 1 guy. That was made clear from the beginning, and manager Ron Washington has not wavered from it until Pierzynski got hurt.
"That's the business side of baseball," Soto said. "To be honest, I'm a baseball player. I can't focus on the business side. It's been a little weird, but I know my situation. So far my focus is to win games and get back to the World Series. I know it sounds like a cliche, but that's my focus."
Weather forces late arrival for callup Chirinos
HOUSTON -- Catcher Robinson Chirinos, called up from Triple-A Round Rock, was expected to be at Minute Maid Park for Friday's game with the Astros, but it hasn't been easy. Bad weather in Houston cancelled two flights from Las Vegas. So Chirinos was re-routed to Dallas and driven to Houston by two Rangers officials. They left Dallas at 2 p.m. CT, and traffic in Houston is always bad in the evenings. Chirinos arrived at the park at 6:15 p.m., less than an hour before first pitch.
Chirinos was called up to be the Rangers' backup catcher while A.J. Pierzynski is on the disabled list. Chirinos was hitting .295 (23-for-78) with two home runs and 14 RBIs in 23 games with Round Rock. He can also play first and third base if needed, but the Rangers aren't expecting to use him there.
"He's a good receiver -- catch-and-throw guy," manager Ron Washington said. "Good power to the opposite field. He gives you a good at-bat."
Chirinos was acquired from the Rays for cash considerations on April 8. He did not play in 2012 after suffering a concussion in Spring Training when a foul tip struck his mask. He played 20 games for the Rays in 2011 after being acquired from the Cubs as part of a deal for pitcher Matt Garza.
Telis among Rangers' Minors award winners
HOUSTON -- Double-A Frisco catcher Tomas Telis has been named the Rangers' Defender of the Month for April. He received the award after throwing out 10 of 18 baserunners and not committing an error behind the plate.
The award is significant as Telis, 21, has always been considered an excellent offensive prospect. But there have been questions about his defense, especially after undergoing major elbow surgery in 2010. The award suggests he is making progress, and Frisco manager Steve Buechele confirmed that.
"He has been a nice surprise," Buechele said. "He's a great kid, he's swinging the bat and playing well behind the plate. He's made some throws that were absolutely outstanding."
Other award winners:
• Outfielder Joey Butler has been named the Rangers' Minor League Player of the Month for April. Butler batted .341 (30-for-88) with 16 runs, 13 walks, six doubles, three home runs and 12 RBIs over 25 games with Triple-A Round Rock.
• Class A Hickory pitcher C.J. Edwards is the Pitcher of the Month after going 1-1 with a 1.93 ERA and 29 strikeouts against seven walks in April. Opponents batted .176 off him.
• Frisco pitcher Randy Henry was the Reliever of the Month. He allowed just one unearned run over 18 1/3 innings and six relief appearances. The right-hander compiled 20 strikeouts against just one walk. Henry was acquired from the Orioles on Dec. 1, 2011, in a trade for catcher Taylor Teagarden.
• Third-base coach Gary Pettis missed Friday's game while attending his daughter Paige's graduation from the University of Arizona. Dave Anderson coached third and Buechele coached first base.
• Pitching coach Mike Maddux will miss Saturday's game to attend his daughter Makayla's graduation from TCU. Bullpen coach Andy Hawkins will handle the pitching coach duties, and be assisted by Minor League pitching coordinator Danny Clark.
• Manager Ron Washington said he can understand how Astros manager Bo Porter could make a mistake with the rules in Thursday's game against the Angels. Porter got away with changing pitchers without the first one facing a hitter, and Washington said, "Sometimes you get caught up in the game and try to do some things. There have been many times a manager tries to make a move and the umpire says no, and you go back to the dugout with your tail between your legs. It happens. He just got away with one."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.