Rest was coming at some point for the overworked back end of the Texas Rangers’ bullpen, and manager Ron Washington and pitching coach Mike Maddux determined the first two games against Cincinnati would be the time.
The most heavily taxed man, Tanner Scheppers, wasn’t used in his normal role Friday night, albeit with a four-run lead, and a situation arose Saturday night in the 11th inning that usually would be his.
Instead, the right-hander rested, and another who was well-rested was asked to preserve a tie game. Kyle McClellan, though, is no Scheppers, and he quickly surrendered a two-run homer to Devin Mesoraco that was the difference in a 6-4 Cincinnati victory.
“We check with these guys every day,” manager Ron Washington said. “Tanner’s been used a heck of a lot, and today was one of those days we decided to stay away from him.”
The loss snapped the Rangers’ winning streak at three games and prevented them from gaining ground on their closest division rival, Oakland, which lost earlier in the day.
To lay the loss solely at McClellan’s feet or on the decision not to use Scheppers isn’t entirely fair, as the Rangers went 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position and had only one hit through five innings before finishing with only five.
They had the winning run at third base with two outs in the 10th, but Adrian Beltre fouled out on the second pitch of his at-bat to end the threat.
That left the game in McClellan’s right hand, and he promptly hit Todd Frazier on a 1-2 pitch to start the 11th. Mesoraco, who had been 0 for 4 with three strikeouts, followed with a towering shot into the left-field seats.
The blast came on a night when the ball didn’t carry as it usually does at Rangers Ballpark. Shin-Soo Choo homered on the game’s first pitch, but A.J. Pierzynski saw a deep drive die just in front of the 407-foot sign in right-center field to end the eighth, and Mitch Moreland’s drive to right field to start the ninth was caught at the wall.
“I thought I had hit it well enough to at least get it over his head,” Pierzynski said. “I thought Mitch had hit one, too. The ball didn’t seem to be carrying as the game went on.”
Said Washington: “The one Mesoraco hit, he hit that one. He didn’t miss it.”
The Rangers were on the cusp of an unlikely victory much of the night thanks to some Reds fielding miscues and their inability to get a big hit.
Three errors in the third inning, two on first baseman Joey Votto, helped the Rangers turn a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead. The Rangers had only one hit in the inning, a single by Leonys Martin that pushed his hitting streak to 13 games.
Cincinnati scored twice in the fifth against Nick Tepesch, who did some of his best pitching after getting himself in trouble. A double play got Tepesch out of a bases-loaded jam in the third with only one run scoring, and the Reds got only one run in the first inning despite having two one-out chances with Votto at second.
But the first three Reds reached in the fifth, and two of them scored. The Rangers pulled even in the sixth, which opened with doubles by Elvis Andrus and Nelson Cruz, but Beltre, Pierzynski and Moreland couldn’t get Cruz home.
The Rangers went only 2 for 19 after the Cruz double but still had a chance after Ross Wolf, who hadn’t pitched since June 14, worked three scoreless innings and Neal Cotts and Joe Nathan combined on three more.
Washington was committed to staying away from Scheppers, who worked in four of the six games on the last road trip, and left-hander Robbie Ross, who worked Friday. It was a decision that left the game in McClellan’s right hand, and he couldn’t deliver.
“I’ve just got to get outs. There’s no excuse for it,” said McClellan, who hadn’t pitched since June 19. “I did everything in between to stay sharp, just didn’t get it done. I feel like I let this team down. Game on the line like that and feel like you let these guys down.”