In the span of only seven days, the Texas Rangers’ rotation depth has melted from iceberg-thick to as thick as a leaf of iceberg lettuce.
And the margin for error with the five current starters wasn’t any wider.
Colby Lewis bowed out of the season Aug. 6, and Matt Harrison was declared done until 2014 on Tuesday. Either veteran was expected to jump right into the rotation once healthy.
Suddenly the Rangers, solid the past three times through the rotation, are an inflamed shoulder or a tender elbow away from Ross Wolf or Josh Lindblom being a starter during a playoff chase.
So the start Alexi Ogando made Tuesday was no ordinary start though Rangers brass wouldn’t say as much. He is believed to be healthy, but he hadn’t exactly been steady in his four starts since coming off the disabled list.
He was better against Milwaukee but not good enough.
Scooter Gennett hit two of the Brewers’ three home runs off Ogando in 6 1/3 innings, and the Rangers never solved Marco Estrada as their eight-game winning streak came to a halt with a 5-1 loss.
“Overall, my command was a lot better, but I left some out there and they took advantage of them,” Ogando said. “I want to improve every day ... and build on it. Like I said, the command of my pitches was good. I hope to continue.”
At least Ogando isn’t hurt, which is saying something.
General manager Jon Daniels delivered the news on Harrison, who felt numbness in his left hand Friday while making his fourth rehab start. He visited with team physician Dr. Keith Meister on Monday and was examined by spine specialist Dr. Drew Dossett on Tuesday.
They concluded that Harrison’s back, operated on twice in a 10-day span in late April and early May, wasn’t strong enough. Those same doctors had cleared him to begin a rehab assignment, but the extra strain that comes with pitching in games started taking a toll.
The Rangers feared that Harrison could do damage to his arm if he continued trying to overcompensate for his back, and Harrison had been dealing with soreness in his elbow.
He is expected to be ready to go at the beginning of spring training.
“Fortunately there’s nothing structurally wrong with the elbow,” Daniels said. “We were hoping to have him back this year. It’s not going to happen. Matt’s going to be here a long time. We don’t want to push it.”
Mitch Moreland homered for the Rangers, who couldn’t pull their late-inning magic against a Brewers bullpen that entered with a 2.90 ERA and pitched around trouble late.
Ogando needed only 44 pitches over the first four innings despite not having a 1-2-3 inning over the first three. He pitched around a one-out single in the first and wiggled free in the second after the first two Brewers reached, but he gave up a homer to Gennett to start the third.
Moreland countered with his own homer to open the bottom half, and Ogando breezed through the fourth before a one-out walk to Logan Schafer and Gennett’s second homer gave Milwaukee a 3-1 lead in the fifth.
Ogando was quickly out of the sixth and struck out Juan Francisco to start the seventh before Khris Davis clanged a solo shot off the left-field foul pole. Ogando exited after 6 1/3 innings and only 73 pitches.
“He was efficient tonight,” manager Ron Washington said. “It’s improvement. He got us into the seventh inning. You can always look back and dissect. If we could have put some runs on the board, you never know what could have happened.”
The Rangers had one last gasp to save their streak by loading the bases with one out in the eighth, but Elvis Andrus struck out and Ian Kinsler hit a soft liner to third base to end the threat and make a loser out of Ogando (5-4).
But he flashed some encouraging signs, most notably that he is healthy. The Rangers, suddenly thin on rotation depth, are hoping Ogando and the other four can keep going the rest of the season.
“That’s the story here,” Daniels said. “We were hoping to get some depth back, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. It’s most concerning if we have another issue. We’re comfortable with where we are now, but as we’ve seen all too often the last two years, you can never have enough pitching.”