As has been the case with three other Texas Rangers’ pitchers this season, Robbie Ross should never have been in the starting rotation.
Injuries have forced the Rangers to turn to pitchers who should be in the bullpen, in the minors or in the pool of unsigned free agents.
As of Sunday, Ross was the only one of the fill-ins still with a starting job, even though the numbers haven’t added up. His up-and-down outing against Boston in a 5-2 loss simultaneously inspired groans and hope, but shouldn’t have done anything to solidify his rotation spot.
Something else that happened Sunday, though, might have.
Fellow left-hander Martin Perez found himself in an MRI tube over breakfast, and elbow inflammation following his short Saturday effort will almost certainly put him on the disabled list.
The Rangers, who for the past eight days have scored enough and pitched well only when Yu Darvish has been on the mound, are left trying to piece together a rotation that will keep them viable until their injured pitchers are at full strength.
When it comes to Ross staying in the rotation, it comes down to a funky numbers game.
“Injuries are a part of the game,” manager Ron Washington said. “Yes, they may be hitting us a little hard every now and then. But, nope, we’ve got 25 guys we’re going to run out there, and we’ve got nine we’re going to put on the field every night. We’re going to go out there and do the best we can.”
Boston scored three runs against Ross in the first inning and another in the second to back Fort Worth resident John Lackey with all the run support he would need.
From the third to the sixth, though, Ross limited the Red Sox to one hit, and he didn’t yield another run until Dustin Pedroia clubbed a solo homer with two outs in the seventh on Ross’ career-high 112th pitch.
“It was a thing where I was like, ‘I’ve just go to go out there and keep us in the game,’ ” Ross said.
In past years, five runs in 6 2/3 innings wouldn’t be too much for the Rangers’ offense to overcome. Not these Rangers, whose lineup can’t consistently get a key hit and continues to get nothing of what is expected from big guns Adrian Beltre and Prince Fielder.
After Shin-Soo Choo homered to start the fourth to make it 4-1, Mitch Moreland missed a two-out chance later in the inning with runners at second and third. After Moreland’s one-out RBI single in the seventh and an infield hit by J.P. Arencibia, Leonys Martin and Rougned Odor struck out swinging.
“We had some opportunities in that game today to make a difference, but we just didn’t come through,” Washington said.
The initial news on Perez had the Rangers breathing more easily after their fourth loss in six games.
He will undergo more tests Monday, but even if he is out for only a few starts, the numbers are adding up to more starts for Ross.
Nick Tepesch, who has pitched like a Triple A All-Star for Round Rock, will replace Perez on Wednesday at Houston. Thanks to off days Thursday and May 19, the Rangers could hold off on Ross until as late as May 21.
Another Nick, Nick Martinez, could replace Ross. So could Joe Saunders, who is determined to not pitch out of the bullpen, or Scott Baker, who cleared waivers and accepted assignment back to Round Rock rather than become a free agent.
Of that group, though, only one, Martinez, seems desirable. But the longer he is in the bullpen, his ability to give six or seven innings in a start is diminished. If any from that group is put in the rotation, the Rangers’ starting depth takes another blow.
Those are the numbers that point to Ross keeping his rotation spot, even though his 1-4 record and 5.04 ERA, among other numbers, are pointing him back to the bullpen.
“I’d like to go out there every game and give up one or two runs and throw seven or eight innings,” said Ross, who admitted to feeling frustrated by his past three starts. “I think I’ve come to the point where I need to stop putting pressure on myself when it doesn’t need to be there.”
The offense could help that by scoring some runs. Ross has helped himself by realizing that there’s only so much he can do on the mound.
He’s likely going to get another chance as a member of the rotation to prove it. He and the Rangers are stuck in a numbers game in which the shortfall of starting pitchers is a bigger issue than the numbers Ross has produced on the mound.