The first West Coast road trip of the season is history for the Texas Rangers, who played winning baseball in 52 of the 54 innings over six games against Oakland and Seattle.
Four wins, two losses. Any team will take that. But two eighth-inning bullpen letdowns, one Friday and another Sunday, made the trip feel like it got away.
Rangers nemesis Kyle Seager did the taking in the weekend finale at Safeco Field, launching a three-run homer with two outs in the eighth inning to complete the Mariners’ rally from a five-run deficit and sink the Rangers 6-5.
The homer was Seager’s second of the game, following a solo shot to start the seventh, and it spoiled Matt Harrison’s return from the disabled list after he missed more than a year because of back woes. But Rangers players insisted that the late loss didn’t spoil their road trip.
“They were tough losses, especially today,” shortstop Elvis Andrus said. “I still believe that it was a pretty good road trip from us. We’ll try to take the good things from this road trip and try to build on that.”
Indeed, there was good on the trip that two lemons by Neal Cotts on Friday and Alexi Ogando on Sunday shouldn’t overshadow. Two positives stand out:
The Rangers saw two injured starters return and pitch competitively enough to win games, and there is no doubt that Robinson Chirinos should catch as much as his body will allow.
The mound developments were what the Rangers were hoping would come about once Colby Lewis and Harrison returned. Lewis has pitched three times now, and the Rangers have won twice.
Harrison started Sunday for the first time since April 6, 2013, and retired the first nine batters he faced and overcame a fourth-inning hiccup and another run in the sixth to leave with a three-run lead. He allowed two runs on three hits.
“He was pretty good, especially in the fourth and the sixth when they tried to threaten,” manager Ron Washington said. “He got out of it.”
Harrison was satisfied, too, though he wishes he had asked for more warm-up pitches in the fourth after the Rangers scored three times in a prolonged top half of the inning. He also regrets throwing the “lawn dart” that bounced over Chirinos and allowed Robinson Cano to score the Mariners’ second run with two outs in the sixth.
Harrison logged 95 pitches in his 2014 debut.
“I feel good about it,” he said. “I’m just glad to be back.”
The Rangers are glad to have him and are thankful for Chirinos’ contributions. As shocking as it was to see a dominant-looking Ogando (1-2) cough up three runs in the eighth after striking out Cano and Corey Hart on his first six pitches, the bigger shock might have been that the Rangers lost a game started by Chirinos.
That hadn’t happened since April 9 at Boston, another game in which an eighth-inning lead was lost by Ogando and Cotts. Chirinos will enter the three-game homestand Monday with an 11-3 record when he starts.
The flip side is that J.P. Arencibia, signed to be Geovany Soto’s backup, is now Chirinos’ backup, and that seems tenuous. The Rangers have discussed the possibility of giving either of their Triple A catchers, Chris Gimenez and Brett Nicholas, an opportunity.
Arencibia, who is making $1.8 million this year after batting .194 in 2013, can be optioned to the minors. He’s hitting .094 so far, and the Rangers are 4-7 with a 5.94 ERA when he catches.
Maybe some of that is bad luck, but Chirinos can’t possibly be enjoying the other extreme on the luck spectrum.
The Rangers seem to agree. At the very least, Chirinos is firmly established as their primary catcher. That rang true on this road trip — never more so than with Chirinos catching all three games in a sweep of division-rival Oakland — as did encouraging early signs that the rotation could be coming together with Lewis and Harrison now a part of it.
Even the offense showed some life despite having only two homers on the trip.
It was a good road trip, said the Rangers, even though two late losses in Seattle ruined a potentially perfect two-city West Coast swing.
“We played to win six games,” right fielder Alex Rios said. “Unfortunately, a couple things happened that are part of the game. We played very good, and that’s all that you can ask for.”