Texas Rangers rotation struggling in the most fundamental of ways

ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 02: Shelby Miller #19 of the Texas Rangers throws in the first inning against the Houston Astros at Globe Life Park in Arlington on April 2, 2019 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 02: Shelby Miller #19 of the Texas Rangers throws in the first inning against the Houston Astros at Globe Life Park in Arlington on April 2, 2019 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Rick Yeatts/Getty Images) /

The Texas Rangers are being held back by a few struggling starting pitchers. It seems they’ll have to go back to the basics before turning things around.

It’s been a bumpy ride for Texas Rangers starting pitchers so far. The rotation’s 26 walks are tied for the most in baseball, its 6.55 ERA is third worst in baseball, and its 44 innings pitched just barely triumphs the bullpen’s count of 43. One bad stat leads to the next bad stat, which leads to the next bad stat, and so on and so on…

Expectations for the starting staff were not high entering the season. Some fans saw the glass as half full: Mike Minor had a strong 2018, Lance Lynn has success sprinkled throughout his career, Edinson Volquez has a lively arm, Drew Smyly was good before Tommy John surgery and Shelby Miller was dominant not too long ago.

Others saw the glass as half empty: Texas is taking a bunch of flyers on injury-prone, or washed up pitchers. Regardless, the glass was only filled to the halfway point, certainly never any higher.

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ANAHEIM, CA – APRIL 06: Drew Smyly #33 of the Texas Rangers pitches in the second inning of the game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on April 6, 2019 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images) /

None of the Rangers starters should be given up on yet. Minor and Lynn are doing good things and are therefore free from any harsh critique. The same cannot be said for the other three, however.

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Volquez is of course on the Injured List. He’s dealing with another elbow issue; there is notable concern that season-ending surgery may once again be required to bring him back to health. Prior to being sidelined, Volquez had walked eight batters in 7.2 innings and posted an ERA of 7.04.

Smyly has pitched only 6.1 innings over his first two starts. His 7.11 ERA and 2.37 WHIP are much too high. Even more grotesque is Shelby Miller’s 9.53 ERA and 3.18 WHIP. He’s thrown just 5.2 innings over two starts. Smyly has walked five and Miller has walked eight.

Who knows what the diagnosis is for their early season struggles. Hopefully pitching coach Julio Rangel has a beat on the situation, but the year is only going to get uglier if they can’t turn things around.

Maybe Smyly and Miller lack confidence? After all, it must be tough returning to the peak level of baseball competition after such long layoffs. Have their pitches lost effectiveness? Each is on par with previous seasons from a velocity standpoint. Smyly’s K/9 are consistent with years past, though Miller is experiencing a significant drop off in the statistic.

Honestly, their struggles seem very basic. They seem very fundamental.

Both are struggling to throw strikes, both are struggling to get ahead in the count against hitters, and both are pitching way too often with runners on base. Again, one bad thing leads to another, which leads to another, and so and so on…

What did your coach always preach when you were a kid? “Get ahead of hitters,” “let your defense work,” “no free passes.” The same applies to the big leaguers. Granted, it’s a lot tougher to execute those thoughts when Mike Trout is at the plate. In fact, the last thought doesn’t necessarily apply in such a situation. But the point is a pitcher isn’t doing himself or his team any good by allowing hitters to reach base with ease.

Take the past series vs. the Los Angeles Angels for example. The Angels entered the series as one of the worst offenses in MLB. Even after winning three out of four over Texas, their offense is still hitting a collective .209 with a .334 slugging percentage.

Smyly allowed four runs on six hits and three walks over 3.1 innings pitched on Saturday against the Halos. He got himself into a jam in every inning, and damage was eventually done when Trout launched a grand slam off him in the 4th. There is not a worse situation to be in as a pitcher than having to face Mike Trout with the bases loaded. Smyly put himself in that situation.

The next afternoon, Miller tossed two innings, allowing four runs on four hits and three walks. He got himself into a very drawn out second inning which resulted in multiple bases loaded occurrences. Miller got the Texas Rangers into an early deficit; his offense was not able to overcome it as the game stumbled to a finish.

Whatever the issues are with these two starters, whether mental or physical, Texas needs to get them straightened out. The team is losing games because of them, and the bullpen is being overworked way too early in the season. Asking the Rangers to continue like this is asking for definite trouble.

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Smyly and Miller have to throw strikes. They don’t have the overpowering stuff that can lead to cheap outs; therefore, they have to get ahead of hitters and work the black of the plate. They’re not going to fool many hitters by throwing stuff well outside the strike zone.