Four games into his managerial career, Chris Woodward is already impressing. The Texas Rangers’ skipper has pulled all the right strings to start.
Chris Woodward is off to a 2-2 start to his managerial career. His personality, composure, knowledge and leadership blew everyone away throughout spring training. The organization gave him high praise, the media gave him high praise, and Texas Rangers nation has given him very strong support since his official hire. How does he look managing games that actually count?
The Shin-Soo Choo/Hunter Pence debacle
Woodward did something controversial before the first pitch of the regular season was even thrown. He opted to sit 15-year veteran Shin-Soo Choo on opening day in favor of fourth outfielder Hunter Pence.
This was not a popular decision, as Choo was more than deserving of an opening day nod. Pence ended up going 1-for-3 on the day with a single. Woodward made the decision for two reasons: (1) He wanted to get Pence at-bats vs. a lefty before the team ran up against a string of right-handed pitchers, and (2) he wanted to balance the opening day lineup.
He did the same in the Rangers’ third games against left-hander Cole Hamels. Choo sat and Pence started. Pence went 2-for-3 with two runs and a walk.
Later in that game, Woodward pinch hit Pence for Choo. The game was tied in the bottom of the 9th inning and Joey Gallo led off with a double. Choo stepped to the plate and pulled a ground ball to second base on the first pitch he saw. He was out, but Gallo moved to third base. The next pitch was a wild one from Pedro Strop and Gallo scored the walk-off run.
Choo was the perfect guy to have at the plate to selflessly advance a runner in that situation. Had he started the game, he would not have been available off the bench and the outcome could have changed.
Score one for Chris Woodward.
Closer Jose Leclerc enters the game with two outs in the 8th
It was made clear throughout the first three games of the season that the Rangers bullpen is shaky. Thus, in a tie game in the 8th inning against the 2016 world champs, Woodward handed the ball to his best pitcher.
Jose Leclerc came on with two outs and the go ahead run on second base. Albert Almora Jr. was at the plate. Leclerc struck him out to secure the tie. He went on to pitch a scoreless 9th inning as well. It was in the bottom of the 9th that Texas won the game.
Woodward could have left right-hander Chris Martin in to face the right-handed Almora Jr. Instead, he went to his best pitcher, rightly so. It may seem like the obvious move; however, most managers hold their closer to pitch the 9th or until a save situation arises. The Rangers’ manager went against the book and made a decision that led to a victory.
Woodward stuck with his horse
Texas Rangers starting pitchers have failed to get to the 5th inning in all but one start this season. That one start came from Lance Lynn, who allowed seven earned runs in 5.2 innings pitched on Sunday. He’s the only Ranger to throw over 100 pitches in an outing to this point as well.
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Woodward could have pulled Lynn after he allowed four runs in four innings. Texas was down 4-0 at the time. But he understood Lynn’s experience and he understood his team’s situation. Again, the Rangers don’t have a deep bullpen. Having used the pen so much in the first two games, Woodward needed Lynn to eat some innings.
The Ranger skipper even went out to the mound to visit Lynn in the 6th inning. We don’t know exactly what was said, but it seemed like the customary “how you feelin, can you finish this one off?” conversation. Lynn must have said something along the lines of “good” and “yes”.
He failed to get the next batter out and failed to complete the inning; however, it’s the faith and patience Woodward showed in his big right-hander that truly matters in game three of a 162-game season..
Chris Woodward is in command. He’s making decisions based on strategy, not sympathy. He’s placing trust in his best players to handle the big moments. And he’s instilling the analytical approaches that were few and far between under the supervision of Jeff Banister.
It’s early, but the Texas Rangers seem to have made a very good hire last offseason. Woodward doesn’t have as much to work with as he’d probably like, but he certainly intends to make the most of what he has.