Texas Rangers manager Jeff Banister wants his club to be the kind that doesn’t beat itself. Of course, most managers would appreciate that from their team, but Banister has preached that philosophy since he was hired in October 2014.
Again this spring, he has often talked about his players making the routine plays at a higher than average rate. He’s brought up defense without it being directly asked, and the club works tirelessly during the early part of spring on all the fundamentals you’re taught in Little League.
Why go on about this? The Rangers made two more errors in their 10-2 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday night, and a couple more mistakes that don’t get recorded as errors in the box score. (More on one of those below.) They now have 31 errors in 28 Cactus League games, tied for fourth most and three behind the spring-leading Tampa Bay Rays.
True, many of the errors have been committed by younger players who won’t be on the 25-man roster. Of the 31 errors, including two by Rougned Odor on Thursday, six have been committed by players who will be on the Opening Day roster. So perhaps it’s not as bad as it seems.
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Here are some memorable moments from Thursday on a most-forgettable night:
1. Profar’s pause — This wasn’t good timing. A few days after a base-running blunder cost his Netherlands team an out in the World Baseball Classic, Jurickson Profar was again caught mentally out to lunch Thursday against the Dodgers. After running down Chris Taylor’s fly ball near the track in center field, Profar, playing center field for the Rangers for the first time in his career, forgot that Andrew Toles was on first base. Perhaps Profar figured he had no shot at second if Toles tried to tag up. Regardless, after making a nice catch, Profar nonchalantly slowed down instead of pivoting quickly to return the ball to second. Toles tagged easily. ESPN cameras caught Adrian Beltre motioning his arms toward Profar and then again talking to Profar in the dugout after the inning. The inning, by the way, ended on another nice play by Profar — a diving catch to his left on a sinking liner in right-center field. Banister said he hadn’t yet talked to Profar about the play.
2. Griffin’s cutter — Right-hander A.J. Griffin is excited to start the season for several reasons, not the least of which is he feels physically ready unlike a year ago. In 2016, he was still building up the necessary stamina after missing the previous two seasons because of Tommy John surgery. Another reason he’s stoked? He’s rediscovered his proper grip on the cut fastball he used so effectively for two seasons with the Oakland A’s in 2012-13.
“Last year, I was holding my cutter stupid,” Griffin said bluntly. “I was holding it too soft and then just spinning it out there, not doing anything. Now I’m gripping it tight.”
Griffin said he threw it poorly all of ’16. The 28 home runs he allowed last season? The bad cutter.
“The home runs I gave up on the cutter were on pitches that looked like 83 mile per hour fastballs,” he said. “The best way to describe it is I had to learn how to pitch all over again last year. It was like me going to France and using my French. I’m going to be rusty.”
3. WBC thoughts — Rangers closer Sam Dyson pitched in consecutive nights for Team USA as the the U.S. won its first World Baseball Classic championship. Jeff Banister said he spoke with Team USA manager Jim Leyland directly to give him the green light to use Dyson on back-to-back nights. He also talked to Dyson before the tournament.
“I appreciate the fact that Jim reached out to me and talked to me about it,” Banister said. “That’s the ultimate respect I have for Jim and why he’s been a great manager of the years.”
Dyson pitched six perfect innings with four strikeouts. Alex Claudio pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings for Puerto Rico.
Banister applauded Team USA and the tournament, in general. “There is definite pride in every one of them,” he said. “I absolutely loved the emotion and passion that every team played with. And how they played.”
4. Gee whiz — Cleburne native and Rangers’ rotation hopeful Dillon Gee didn’t have a good night Thursday. The Dodgers hit him hard over 3 1/3 innings, although he didn’t exactly get the best defense behind him (two errors and see above). Still, many of the Dodgers’ nine hits against Gee were well struck, even more so than a first-inning two-run homer by Chase Utley, which was more wind than wood. Gee had allowed a combined three earned runs in five previous spring outings, so it’s not like he’s struggled all of March. On Thursday, four of the seven Gee allowed were earned. “We didn’t really help him out with a couple of errors,” Banister said. “He continued to attack the strike zone and probably didn’t get the outs he wanted to get.”
5. Hauschild’s splits — Mike Hauschild has pitched six times in the Cactus League and a mild, if inconsequential, theme has emerged. The Rule 5 right-hander has sailed through his relief outings and struggled a bit when he starts. In three relief outings he’s allowed one hit with five strikeouts in six scoreless innings.
In three starts, he’s allowed six earned runs on 13 hits and four walks over 9 1/3 innings. He’s also struck out six as a starter. What does it mean, if anything?
“It just means coming out of the bullpen I’ve been throwing more strikes,” Hauschild said. “I haven’t as a starter. If you throw strikes, you do very well. If you don’t, you get behind hitters and get into trouble.”