Three Takeaways from the Rangers' 5-1 Loss to Oakland
A final score of 5-1 does not describe the mood or feel of the game played between the Texas Rangers and Oakland A's on Tuesday night at The Coliseum. Stephen Piscotty ruined a great pitcher's duel with a walk-off grand slam off a Jesse Chavez 87-mph pitch out of the strike zone.
Despite the different records, the Rangers and A's were in pretty similar spots heading into Tuesday night. Both offenses had struggled and their starting rotations were pitching well. One large contrast between the two teams has been the performances of their respective bullpens. The Rangers' bullpen has been wildly inconsistent while Oakland's has kept them in games throughout.
So when the two teams got into a battle of the bullpens on Tuesday night, the Rangers were at a disadvantage, which is what ultimately played out. This leads straight into the first of my three key observations from Tuesday night's loss in Oakland...
Who's Going to Pitch the Ninth Inning?
Jonathan Hernández looks like the best pitcher in the Rangers' bullpen. The stuff is always there. It's nasty. He struggles too often with command, but that's not atypical for a young power arm. He pitched two shutout innings on Sunday in San Francisco and relieved Lance Lynn on Tuesday night with 1 2/3 scoreless innings against the A's.
Edinson Vólquez has pitched is some big games in his career. It's one of the reasons why Rangers manager Chris Woodward wants him in high-leverage situations. He had looked sharp in his first three innings of the season. He just didn't have command on Tuesday night.
Nick Goody has looked pretty solid, but doesn't have the stuff that compares to Hernández. Ian Gibaut has fallen back to Earth a bit since a solid camp. Jesse Chavez has struggled a bit at the start of the season. Brett Martin just threw his first inning on Saturday since coming back from COVID-19.
Needless to say, without Leclerc, the Rangers don't have a ton of viable options for the ninth inning. If Hernández stays in a seventh- or eighth-inning role, it's a ninth-inning-by-committee, which is never ideal. If Hernández becomes the de facto closer, how does the bullpen order shake out just to get to the ninth inning with a lead or tie game?
These are all valid questions and are likely just a fraction of the conversations Chris Woodward and his staff will continue to have beyond Tuesday night.
"Since Leclerc has gone down, we have discussions like that all the time," Woodward said. "It looks like I’m going to use Hernández-Vólquez, but that doesn’t mean that’s going to happen every time. I haven’t solidified anything by any means.
"I think this outing makes me open my eyes a little bit just to make sure when we get to that position. I still trust Vólquez. He’s been through a lot. I trust he’s going to throw the ball over the plate and execute pitches when we need it. Tonight was just maybe an off night for him.”
Help may be on the way with Joely Rodríguez now activated from the 10-day IL. Rafael Montero should be inching closer to a return as well. How the bullpen is handled is definitely something to watch going forward. And the rotation may have to be heavily relied on to pitch deep into games in order to have a better chance to win. Speaking of the rotation...
Lance Lynn is an Ace
Not only is Lance Lynn an ace, he looks like a Cy Young contender. In what will roughly be a quarter of his starts in 2020, he's 1-0 with a 0.49 ERA (1 ER) in 18 1/3 innings with 24 strikeouts and a 0.82 WHIP. That one earned run came on a Matt Chapman solo home run in the seventh inning of Tuesday night's loss to Oakland.
"He's swung through that pitch 12 times in his career," Lynn said. "He did his best to get on top of it and and he got it to a spot where he could hit it out. In that case, you just tip your hat to him."
Unfortunately for Lynn, the Rangers have only scored four runs for him while he's been on the mound this year. Call it a coincidence or a lack of urgency. Either way, the Rangers' offense had better figure out a way to secure wins when their best pitcher is giving them Cy Young-caliber performances on the mound. It's bad enough to give away games in a normal season. It could be detrimental in a 60-game season.
Highly-touted prospect Leody Taveras earned a spot on the Opening Day 30-man roster due to a strong camp and a seemingly overhauled approach at the plate. After the Rangers struggled to score runs in the first few games, they opted to send Taveras to the alternate training site and called up Adolis García, who had swung a good bat during camp.
Since being called up, García is 0-for-6 with one walk and four strikeouts. Tuesday night's performance was bad in particular because not only did he expand the strike zone, he was missing pitches in the strike zone as well.
“One thing I saw at camp and a little bit early here was a consistent strike zone," Woodward said. "That’s one thing he’s worked really hard on. I know its tough when you’re not getting the reps or at-bats. That was obviously something that didn’t happen tonight. He expanded the strike zone. That’s something we can talk about with him now moving forward. ...I know he works on it every day. Its just a commitment to it. Hopefully it will show up more in some of these games.”
If García can’t make contact with the ball in the strike zone, Leody Taveras needs to be on the roster over him. Taveras is not only the superior defender, but he is a more patient hitter with better bat-to-ball skills. He may not produce high numbers, which makes him an obvious candidate for the bottom of the order. However, he would likely give better quality at-bats.
The Rangers send out Kyle Gibson to face Oakland's Sean Manaea on Wednesday night at The Coliseum. First pitch is at 8:10 p.m. CST.