Playing with a shorthanded pitching staff and a lineup that’s gone virtually silent, the Rangers (32-20) have now lost 3 games in two days, and their division lead over Oakland (29-23) has shrunk to a mere 3.
Of course, when it comes to the Rangers, the fact they actually lost is far less discouraging than the means by which they lost, and what’s particularly frustrating about the last couple days is that at least two of the games were absolutely winnable, and the tying run was on 1st base in the other.
Yesterday Nick Tepesch pitched what would, for him, be considered a brilliant outing, but the offense only supported him with two runs in regulation. By the time they scored for the 3rd time, in the 10th, Ron Washington had already burned through all his high-leverage arms, meaning Joe Nathan — coming off back-to-back nights where he pitched — was all he had left. On the 1st pitch of the inning, Raul Ibanez cracked a game-tying solo jack over the wall in right, putting the Rangers squarely behind the 8-ball. A bad offensive approach conflated by only having your 6th and 7th relief options available is not the recipe to winning extra-inning affairs.
On Monday, in Game 1, the Rangers sent Martin Perez into his 2013 Major League debut and, in a sense, needed him to be their sacrificial lamb. To his credit, he delivered 95 pitches in 5.1 innings, allowing 4 runs — though Arizona rookie Tyler Skaggs did nothing to help his chances of coming out with a win. He went 6.0 shutout innings and struck out 9 Ranger hitters.
The Rangers didn’t muster anything offensively until the 9th inning, where they plated 3 runs, one on a Jurickson Profar RBI single and the other two on an Adrian Beltre knock. He was standing on 1st base as the tying run when Mitch Moreland grounded out to shortstop to end the game.
Game 2 of the double-header is what stings. Though the Rangers were facing a serviceable starter in Trevor Cahill, they were coming off back-to-back disappointing games and had Yu Darvish — its best pitcher — on the mound.
Darvish’s first pitch of the game was blooped by Gerardo Parra for a single; his second pitch was drilled by Didi Gregorius for a run-scoring triple. After Darvish’s 4th pitch, a sac-fly off the bat of Eric Chavez, the Diamondbacks led 2-0, and Rangers’ fans everywhere let off a collective What the hell just happened like the baseball gods just slapped us all in the face. Yu settled down, though, and would not allow another run until there was one out in the bottom of the 8th;
Again, it was Didi Gregorius getting the best of Darvish, unloading on a hanging breaking pitch to even the game at 4-apiece. Darvish would eventually get Eric Chavez to pop out before being lifted at 116 pitches.
His final line reads well from a peripherals standpoint, but the end results just were not enough for the Rangers offense to inevitably overcome. In 7.2 IP he matched his career-high with 14 strikeouts, and is only the 3rd pitcher since 2000 to record three different 14-strikeout performances in the same season. It’s still May 28th, mind you.
But still, the Rangers lost 5-4.
This news isn’t anything, well, new, but since the Rangers are mired in a three-game losing streak (the first of the year), it’s as good of a time as any to revisit why Ron Washington is such a poor in-game tactician, particularly during late-game situations.
On Sunday, in Seattle, he summoned Tanner Scheppers — who threw 24 pitches the night before — to start the 9th inning, facing two Mariner hitters. The first, Kendrys Morales, lined out to shortstop; the next batter drew a walk. After 9 pitches, Ron Washington took him out.
My question is, if you are going to use Tanner Scheppers in an afternoon game after a night game, essentially burning him for the next day’s double-header, then why would you not look to get full value out of that day’s performance? Perplexing.
In Game 2 of Monday’s double-header, in a tied game in the 9th inning, Washington allowed Leury Garcia to hit instead of using the better offensive option — Jurickson Profar — though one could also just as easily argue why in the world Profar isn’t starting everyday in Ian Kinsler’s absence, too. Garcia mundanely popped out to the 1st baseman in foul territory, which is exacerbated by the fact that it was a 3-1 pitch he swung at.
The inning before, Washington lifted Yu Darvish in a 4-4 game, but decided against using his better relief weapon (who was warm) — Robbie Ross — in favor of Michael Kirkman. It’s not that Wash didn’t get the result he wanted, because Kirkman got out of the inning; the point is why are you utilizing your lesser relief option in the most critical situation of the game? Given the state of the bullpen, and that Darvish had already thrown 116 pitches at the time, I don’t see what the problem would have been in letting Yu finish the inning. If he’s going to take him out, he shouldn’t be using the least effective bullpen arm at his disposal; he should be using Ross — the guy with the 0.4-something ERA.
It’s easy to bury our managerial situation under the rug when the team is playing well, and in most instances that’s how fans judge their manager, anyway — by how well the team plays. But when diagnosing the Rangers from an objective stance, I have no hesitation positing that Ron Washington is the biggest weakness they carry.
It might not mean much if the team continues to play to their talent level, or above — which they’ve been doing. But come late summer and into the postseason, we know how the little things tend to magnify; we know winning time has never been kind Ron Washington, but mostly because of his own doing.