Bullpen issues once again sink the Rangers
Different day, same results. The Texas Rangers once again blow a late lead and lose the game. This time the Rangers led 6-1 in the bottom of the eighth and gave up six runs in the eighth to lose the lead and then lose the game. Last night it was Dane Dunning, Jose Leclerc, and Will Smith that gave up a eighth-inning lead and then lost the game in the ninth. Tonight it was Cole Ragans and Ian Kennedy who contributed to the loss. It is not just one pitcher struggling. It has been an almost whole unit affair that has led to these losses. Lets take a look at what happened prior to the meltdown, the anatomy of the meltdown, and where the teams goes from here.
Prior to the Meltdown
Tonight's game was a great response to last night's loss. The offense produced key base hits, played good defense, and Martin Perez made easy work of the Reds lineup through six innings. Heck even Josh Smith hit a home run. It looked like the Rangers would coast to a win.
Nathaniel Lowe got the scoring started with a solo home run in the first. He overall had his best game in about the last 10 days. He had two hits on the night. His home run quickly made it 1-0. Perez made that 1-0 lead stand up through three innings. Jonah Heim added to it with a RBI groundout to make it 2-0.
Then in the fifth the offense exploded for three runs. Marcus Semien got it started with a home run. Then Josh Jung came up with two runners on and hit a two-run double to make it 5-0. Then in the sixth Josh Smith added what should have been an insurance run with his first home run of the season to make it 6-0.
That should have been enough to finish out the game and come back to win the series tomorrow. It should have been.
Anatomy of the Meltdown
The majority of the meltdown occured in the eighth inning, but do not discount what happened in the seventh. The Rangers grip on the game started loosening up in the seventh. The Reds only scored one run, but most importantly what they did is got Bochy off of his script for the game.
In an ideal world Perez pitches through the seventh, Jonathan Hernandez pitches the 8th, and then with a 6-0 or 6-1 lead Josh Sborz finishes it off in the ninth since it was not a save opportunity. What actually happened though is Perez did start the inning and the Reds hit him with three straight singles to cut into the lead at 6-1. Mike Maddux came out to visit. Then Perez struck out Jose Barrero on three pitches. At that point he had thrown 11 pitches in the inning and he was at 92 pitches on the night. He was approaching his high for pitches in a game. So he was lifted for Hernandez. Hernandez did his job. He got TJ Friedl to strikeout and then Jonathan India to line out to end the inning. That kept the score at 6-1.
That takes us to the eighth. Bochy had a decision to make. He could have stuck with Hernandez with a 5-run lead or go to someone else. He chose the latter. I do wonder if the day game today played a part in his decision. Keep Hernandez's pitch count low so that he can go tomorrow if needed. He went to Cole Ragans. Ragans had not pitched in 10 days. He last pitched in relief of Jon Gray in the Astros series. He was a little bit rusty and a lot bit unlucky. He hit Stuart Fairchild with one out, then the Reds put together a rally. Three of the next four hitters reached via hit and then Jose Barrero walked. Two of the hits were soft bloop singles. They were singles nonetheless. He was removed with the bases loaded and the score was 6-3.
Ian Kennedy was brought in to help put out the raging four alarm fire. He did nothing but add more kerosene to the fire. He gave up a double to Jake Fraley on a soft base hit to left field that scored two runs. Then Jonathan India had the go-ahead base hit on a line drive 103.4 mph single to center that gave the Reds the lead and the win.
Where do the Rangers go from here?
I think it is pretty obvious that status quo is not working at this time. Last night's loss marked the third time in less than a week that the bullpen has blown a lead of more than 3 runs and lost a game. The Rangers do have options internally. They have veterans not on the 40 man roster such as Dominic Leone and Zach Littel. They also have players on the 40 man roster that are currently pitching for Round Rock. That list includes Joe Barlow, Taylor Hearns, John King, and Yerry Rodriguez.
Here is what I would do. I would option Cole Ragans to Round Rock. I know that may seem crazy since he has been pretty reliable. He also is not pitching enough to warrant keeping him on the roster. Last night was the first time he had pitched in 10 days. That leads to rust, which leads to a performance like we saw last night. All of the starters are fully stretched out now so there is really only need for one long reliever. It allows Ragans to pitch every fifth day and be ready to go if the Rangers need a spot start.
Then, once Ragans is optioned I am calling up Yerry Rodriguez. He has an above-average fastball that will play in late innings. So far in 2023 he has pitched in 6 games, has a 2.25 ERA, has struck out 11 and only walked two. He is also holding hitters to a .138 batting average. He is on the 40 man roster as well. This bullpen needs help in the late innings. This would allow Ian Kennedy to move back more into a middle relief role. It would give Bochy someone he can call upon if Hernandez is unavailable that day.
Last season the Rangers made it to a .500 record at 24-24. That would be the high point of the season. The bullpen imploded after that and the front office was slow to make moves to improve the bullpen which led to more losses. This season the team is trying to win and that means being aggressive with the bullpen, shipping out players that are not working, and bringing in players that will work. They cannot let this continue to happen. If this team is to win and compete they have to keep the bullpen fresh and productive. What happened the last two nights cannot happen again.