Felix Hernandez is so good and was so good Thursday that manager Jeff Banister gave the struggling Texas Rangers offense a pass after their 5-0 whitewash at Safeco Field.
Banister isn’t about to judge his hitters on one game against a former Cy Young winner and a two-time runner-up. Hernandez carved them up over eight innings, allowing three hits.
Name a team that hasn’t fared similarly against Hernandez.
Instead, the offense will be judged by what it did in the other nine games during its season-long 10-game road trip that ended with a 5-5 record. The Rangers actually gained a half-game in the American League West standings during the trip but dropped a half-game from their lead for the second wild card.
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“It could have gone better, but it could have gone worse,” first baseman Mitch Moreland said. “We’d like to go 10-0. We went out and played hard every game, and that’s the way it turned out.”
They did that despite getting shut out four times, including the first back-to-back shutouts since 2013, and scoring two runs in the other loss. They scored 28 runs total, 17 of them in two of the wins.
That’s not good, nor were the 74 strikeouts or the .201 batting average. The .121 average with runners in scoring position was abysmal.
It could have gone better, but it could have gone worse. We’d like to go 10-0. We went out and played hard every game, and that’s the way it turned out.
First baseman Mitch Moreland, on the 5-5 record on the season-long road trip
When looking how to judge the offense, Banister will look at the approach with two strikes and the approach with runners in scoring position.
The Rangers had only four hits Thursday, two by Moreland, a day after they were one-hit by Vidal Nuno, who hadn’t won a game in more than a year. Granted, the Rangers’ road trip stopped in three pitcher’s ballparks, but this offense isn’t built on the home run.
Whatever it’s built on is in need of a repair.
The Rangers were shut out in back-to-back games for the first time since July 27-28, 2013, at Cleveland.
“We’ve got to get back to being a tough hitter in the box when we’re down in the count,” Banister said. “This is as a whole here in the last 10 games, being able to string at-bats together and pass the baton. Being a tough out if you’re an out, but continuing to drive the ball to the middle of the field.”
The pitchers’ duel between Hernandez and Derek Holland, coming off consecutive gems, never materialized. Seattle struck for two two-out runs in the first, capped by Mark Trumbo slapping a double down the right-field line to score Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano.
Holland minimized the damage over the next five innings, but the Mariners scored three times in the seventh. Two came on a two-run homer by Cruz, his 40th of the season.
Cruz hadn’t played since Sept. 2 while nursing a quadriceps injury.
“The first-pitch fastball to Cruz is the one that did us in,” Banister said.
The Rangers’ deficit to Houston in the AL West is 2 1/2 games, and their lead for the second wild card is one game over Minnesota. The Astros and Twins were off Thursday.
The Rangers packed up for home after the loss and will open a 10-game homestand Friday against Oakland. If teams are supposed to survive on the road and win at home, the Rangers need to fulfill the second half of the equation.
10 Shutouts on the road this season for the Rangers, the most in the major leagues
It starts with fixing the offense, especially with two strikes and with runners in scoring position. It was Hernandez who tied the Rangers up Thursday, but they struggled throughout the 5-5 road trip.
“We’ve got to get back to that and get back there quickly,” Banister said. “Get back to being the tough out, if you will. I still feel confident about our offense, but we’ve got to find away to put back-to-back games together with mounting offensive charges.
“This time of year the margin of error is very slim, so you’ve got to stay on top of your game.”