Ian Kinsler needed three stitches after this play at the plate with A's catcher John Jaso. (Landov)
Ian Kinsler returned to the Rangers' lineup earlier this week after missing a month due to an intercostal strain and a stress reaction in his rib. On Tuesday night, it appeared that Texas might lose him again, but he survived a collision with A's catcher John Jaso and stayed in the game after receiving stitches. Despite his display of toughness, the Rangers lost 6-2, their 10th defeat in 13 games. The skid has turned a 1 1/2 game AL West lead into a three-game deficit behind Oakland, and exposed some of the organization's curious decisions.
Kinsler's play is worth a look. After walking and advancing to second in the bottom of the third inning, he sped home on A.J. Pierzynski's single, a few seconds behind Leonys Martin, who scored from third. Centerfielder Coco Crisp's throw was offline toward the third base side; Jaso tried to block the plate as he caught the ball, but he came up empty-handed. As Kinsler slid, the left side of his face met Jaso's mask:
According to MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan, Kinsler received three stitches between innings from team doctor Keith Meister as play was held up to allow him to return. Meister also examined him for signs of a concussion before clearing him to go back in the game.
In the bigger picture, the Rangers have been outscored 70-37 during their 13-game slide, which has coincided with the loss of Mitch Moreland, who went on the disabled list with a hamstring strain on June 6. Moreland was hitting .288/.338/.561 with 12 homers. Triple-A callup Chris McGuiness (.176/.176/.206) has been unproductive in his place, but the problem is larger than that. Texas is hitting just .221/.295/.364 in June while scoring 2.88 runs per game, with Elvis Andrus (.159/.217/.175 this month), Lance Berkman (.167/.273/.229) and David Murphy (.153/.254/.271) among those pulling disappearing acts, and Jeff Baker (.226/.273/.645 with four homers in 33 plate appearances) hitting the DL with a sprained thumb suffered while high-fiving a teammate. The return of Kinsler, who is 3-for-15 with three walks in four games, hasn't been enough to offset that, though if he can hit up to the level at which he was producing prior to his injury (.302/.369/.500), he'll help.
Predictably, Kinsler's return has created a logjam involving Profar, a natural shortstop who was called up to be the primary second baseman during his absence and has hit .270/.327/.382 in 101 plate appearances so far. Though considered the game's top prospect coming into the season, the 20-year-old Profar is blocked by Andrus, who signed an eight-year, $120 million extension in April, as well as by Kinsler, whose five-year, $75 million extension kicked in this season. Texas now plans to use Profar in a super-utility role, which includes making him a "functional leftfielder" despite the fact that he's never played the position.
It's a suboptimal decision. Profar's bat is light for a corner outfield spot and his defense out there is likely to be rough. Normally, that wouldn't do much to help the Rangers, but Murphy is hitting .209/.268/.372, and the small-sample pixie dust that led to him hitting .347/.405/.440 in 84 PA against lefties last year has predictably worn off. He's back at .227/.268/.303 in 71 PA against southpaws this year, which pairs poorly with his .202/.268/.399 in 183 PA against righties. As a switch-hitter, Profar may offer a better bat against lefties in the short term, but he has no real future in leftfield. Sooner or later, general manager Jon Daniels will need to trade either him or Kinsler in order to take advantage of their positional value, though the latter's contract complicates things considerably, as does his reluctance to change positions.
While that situation festers, the shape of the Rangers' rotation isn't helping; the unit has been clobbered for a 6.84 ERA this month in the games not started by Yu Darvish. Of the team's intended starting five, both Matt Harrison (back surgery) and Alexi Ogando (shoulder soreness) are on the DL, while Martin Perez has been limited to one spot start after suffering a broken forearm in early March. Fill-ins Nick Tepesch (4.84 ERA in 13 starts), Justin Grimm (5.59 ERA in 12 starts) and Josh Lindblom (5.94 ERA in three starts) have combined for just 11 quality starts out of 28.
Why Perez has been allowed to while away his time at Triple-A Round Rock — allowing three earned runs over his last 31 innings there, interrupted by his May 27 cameo for Texas — while the back-enders have been pounded in June remains unclear. From Sullivan after Perez's six scoreless innings on Tuesday:
"The only conversation we had was he threw the ball well again [Monday] night," manager Ron Washington said. "End of conversation."
The Rangers are staying with Justin Grimm and Nick Tepesch in their rotation for now. Grimm, who is 0-2 with an 11.40 ERA in his last three starts, will pitch again on Wednesday against Oakland. Tepesch allowed six runs in 3 2/3 innings against the Athletics on Monday and is 0-3 with a 5.79 ERA in his last six starts, but he is still scheduled to pitch on Saturday against the Cardinals.
"They just need to start getting more outs deeper in the ballgame," Washington said. "That's what we want them all to do, start executing better."
That's a curious reaction given the organization's investment in Perez, a former top prospect who still has more upside than any of the rotation's other patches.