ARLINGTON, Texas — The Texas Rangers have allowed their opponents' run total to creep into the double digits in two straight games. Most recently, it was a 14-4 beat down at the hands of Jayce Tingler's San Diego Padres.
While the Rangers offense has continued to work through their issues, the pitching staff has kept them in games—they've even stole a couple games for them. Now 10-11 on the season, the last thing the Rangers can afford is their pitching to fall by the wayside. Rangers manager Chris Woodward admits they're still shuffling through their options to find the right combination out of the bullpen.
"I feel comfortable with the back end," Woodward said. "[Jimmy] Herget's been throwing the ball well. [Ian] Gibaut is throwing the ball really well. ...Jordan [Lyles] has had a few good ones, and a couple not-so-good ones. Hopefully, we can get him back on track and get him to where we envision him."
For the second consecutive outing, Jordan Lyles had a strong first inning and a terrible second inning. Lyles led off the inning with a walk, single, back-to-back doubles, and another single before Austin Hedges laid down a sacrifice bunt for the first out of the inning.
"If I could (pinpoint the issue), then these wouldn't keep occurring," Lyles said. "Overall, I need to do a better job preventing that crooked number."
The defense hasn't been much help either. They were only charged with one error in Sunday's 10-6 loss in Colorado, but several miscues added more chances for the Rockies to pile on the runs. The defense was very subpar again on Monday night, which aided in some longer innings.
"It doesn’t happen overnight," said Woodward, regarding the defense's urgency to improve. "We had a long talk the last couple of days, today being one of them. We talked about playing better defense and focusing more on defense. I said it to the guys tonight: ‘We can make two error tonight, but we can’t have fear of making errors.’ That’s what leads to it—the snowball effect. You start to panic a little bit. You start to play careful. That’s typically where we make more mistakes. We just gotta make sure we’re getting our work in.”
As intriguing as the Rangers' struggles are on the mound and in the field, the story of the night came in the eighth inning of the ballgame.
With the game already out of hand, leading 10-3, Padres' rising star Fernando Tatis Jr. swung hard at a 3-0 fastball from Juan Nicasio and planted it several rows deep in the right field seats. Traditionally, this violated an unwritten rule of baseball by running up the score when the game is already likely out of reach.
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"I think there's a lot of unwritten rules that are constantly being challenged in today's game," Woodward said. "I didn't like it, personally. You're up by seven in the eighth inning; it's typically not a good time to swing 3-0 It's kind of the way we were all raised in the game. But, like I said, the norms are being challenged on a daily basis, so—just because I don't like it doesn't mean it's not right. (But) I don't think we liked it as a group."
To compound the issue, Rangers RHP Ian Gibaut relieved Nicasio immediately after the grand slam and threw behind Manny Machado on the very first pitch. Chris Woodward denies any intent to purposely hit Machado. The umpires did not issue any warnings.
Tatis Jr. said afterward he was locked in to the game and was just trying to produce for his team. While it was not done with ill intentions, Padres manager Jayce Tingler confirmed the take sign was given and addressed the issue with Tatis Jr. in the dugout.
“I’ve been in this game since I was a kid," Tatis Jr. said. "I know a lot of unwritten rules. I was kind of lost on this. … Those experiences, you have to learn. Probably next time, I’ll take a pitch.”
Tingler doubled down after the game, siding with the unwritten rule that Tatis Jr. should have taken a strike.
“It was a learning opportunity … just to make sure we get the sign in that situation in the game," Tingler said. "He’s young. He’s a free spirit and focused and all those things.”
A 3-0 meatball hit out of the ballpark should be at the very bottom of the Rangers' list of priorities. Woodward only addressed the issue once asked about it. So, it very well could be a non-factor in their eyes.
However, it could have just been swept under the rug. This is a team that just roared back from a 3-8 start, winning seven of eight games before being pummeled on back-to-back days. The Rangers need to right the ship. The pitching and defense needs to do a quick about-face. A good start would be preventing the opposing team from plating double-digit runs.
Tatis Jr.'s grand slam shouldn't sit well with the Rangers. But only because they couldn't prevent their opponent from scoring at will, not because it violated an unwritten rule.