One step forward, one step back for Rangers

Posted Wednesday, Jun. 19, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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lebreton ARLINGTON — Even before the Texas Rangers’ bats went eerily silent three weeks ago, the month of June loomed as an essential measuring stick.

Four series with would-be AL East contenders. A pair of interleague series against the Cardinals and Reds. All sandwiched around the current four-game series, a timely opportunity for the Rangers to test their contender mettle against the Oakland Athletics.

Lousy timing, as it’s turned out. Bloodied but claiming to be undaunted, the Rangers resumed their hitting futility Tuesday night, and the A’s squared the series, 5-2, at a game apiece.

Not even the night’s most dramatic episode could ignite them. In the third inning, second baseman Ian Kinsler collided with Oakland catcher John Jaso’s mask on a play at home plate.

Jaso couldn’t hold on, and Kinsler, his left cheek bloodied, was called safe. Kinsler would emerge from the dugout later – much later, as it turned out, after three stitches and a check to see if he had sustained a concussion .

The crowd of 37,769 roared. Game on.

But, alas, it is still June. For the Rangers, nothing this month has gone as favorably as it first has seemed.

Catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who had singled in two runs on the play that scored Kinsler, was promptly thrown out at third base when a would-be wild pitch got a fortunate bounce off the backstop brick wall.

The Rangers never got another hit.

One step forward, one step back. Whatever vibes of resuscitation the home team hinted at Monday night, they were quickly dashed Tuesday by Oakland starter Jarrod Parker.

Much will be made of the odd and crippling distinction that the Rangers’ starting rotation now owns – no victories in the month of June. But if this four-game series is supposed to be a measuring stick – the two best teams in the AL West, going head-to-head nearly halfway into the season – the Rangers are falling short.

The Athletics have a pesky lineup. They turned four singles, a sacrifice fly and a balk Tuesday into four of their six runs.

Eight of the nine Oakland batters reached base. The middle of the Rangers’ lineup, meanwhile, went 0-for-16.

One step forward, one step back. And when you append the six consecutive defeats that preceded this series, that’s a lot of backward steps.

It was pitching and timely hitting that provided the scant difference between the A’s and Rangers last season. The same differences, it seems, are separating the two teams this time.

The ongoing hitting drought, I think, isn’t about the aging knees of Lance Berkman or the unheeded lessons from batting coach Dave Magadan. It’s all of that.

It’s Elvis Andrus hitting only .241. It’s Kinsler and Mitch Moreland going on the disabled list. It’s David Murphy batting .209. It’s the whole lineup, trying to hit too many five-run home runs.

They’ve been pressing, and it’s showing, not just at the plate but on the pitching mound. The Athletics, on the other hand, arrived bearded and seemingly carefree. Not even the backed up sewers at their last home game has deterred them.

Two teams, two distinctly different personalities. One way is working, one way clearly not.

Can the Rangers fix things? Are they one trade, one healed Mitch Moreland or one Martin Perez call-up from bridging the gap with the Athletics?

That’s a question that general manager Jon Daniels is going to have to answer – unless the Rangers themselves answer it for him by the end of June.

What a month. What a drought. What a measuring stick these recent series have been.

How many bloody cheeks does it take?

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

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