Rangers’ bats need to pick up the slack

Posted Saturday, May. 04, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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lebreton Nope, they’re still not there yet.

The pitching remains encouraging. The win-loss record has been stout. The new guys have mostly exceeded the club’s boldest expectations.

But, no, the Texas Rangers aren’t there yet. The hitting remains tepid. Would-be rallies continue to wither on the vine.

The second inning Wednesday night was just the latest screaming example.

Though five of the first six Rangers to bat reached base off tough Chicago lefty Chris Sale, the home team was able to score only two runs.

It wouldn’t score any the rest of the night, falling to the White Sox 5-2.

Sale, a 17-game winner for the White Sox a year ago, stomached the Rangers’ second-inning scare and never looked back. He faced only one batter over the minimum through the next five innings.

The Rangers, we media grousers figured, would dismiss it later as Sale’s night. One of those “tip your hat” opportunities that the once-feared Rangers lineup has succumbed to all too often early this season.

Sale, admittedly, looked as good as he was in 2012 before the White Sox signed the gangly 24-year-old to a five-year, $32.5 million contract. He went seven innings Wednesday and gave up only five singles and Jeff Baker’s solo homer.

But as dominating as Sale eventually looked, the Rangers had him where they wanted him in the second inning. Baker’s homer had trimmed the Chicago lead to 2-1. Mitch Moreland walked, and Geovany Soto, Craig Gentry and Ian Kinsler each followed with singles.

Kinsler’s single could well have been a two-run double, but Soto misread the long drive to the left field wall, and Gentry had to skid to a halt behind him.

The score was only tied. The bases remained loaded with only one out.

But the inning soon ended with the bases still filled. Elvis Andrus struck out after a nine-pitch at-bat, and designated hitter Lance Berkman, who began the night batting .319, grounded into a force play.

Whatever hook Sale was hanging by quickly vanished as he retired 16 of the next 18 Rangers he faced.

As efficient as Rangers starter Nick Tepesch was, he failed to match that. Tepesch had a string of seven retired in a row as he began the seventh inning, but Chicago’s Conor Gillaspie ended that with a leadoff home run.

Manager Ron Washington, more impressed with Tepesch’s overall performance than the momentary thunder from Gillaspie’s go-ahead home run, tried to allow the rookie right-hander to finish the inning. Alejandro De Aza foiled that optimism with a two-out, two-run homer, and so went the night.

The Rangers’ bats, however, would have two more opportunities, putting two men on in both the eighth and ninth innings. But White Sox relievers Jesse Crain and Matt Thornton snuffed the Rangers’ rally in the eighth, and Addison Reed struck out Andrus to end the ninth.

It was Elvis’ third strikeout of the night as his average dipped to .248.

Third baseman Adrian Beltre, who’s now hitting .214, left runners in scoring position in the first and eighth innings.

The Rangers are scoring runs this season, but the sporadic futility with runners in scoring position has been noticeable. They began the night seventh (of 15 teams) in the American League in scoring.

Right behind them? The Houston Astros and the struggling Los Angeles Angels.

That stat alone deserves no tips of the hat.

No, they’re not there yet. They aren’t clicking on all cylinders. The cylinders are rattling.

The cleanup hitter needs to start cleaning up. The bottom of the order needs to start hitting its weight.

The record, granted, has been good. But don’t let it mislead you.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton

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