The past three months of Texas Rangers baseball, dating to September 2013, have marked the toughest stretch the club has faced since embarking on its run to relevance.
The injuries are well-documented, and there’s no denying that they have led to multiple losses. Robbie Ross, for instance, shouldn’t have started Saturday night, let alone at any point this season.
But the players who are healthy and in the roles they’ve had their entire careers, many of whom came with lofty expectations attached to them from Day One, aren’t doing enough.
Blame falls to Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus at the plate, not the injured Geovany Soto and Jurickson Profar, and to Alexi Ogando in the bullpen, not the injured Neftali Feliz or Tanner Scheppers.
The whole mess falls at the feet of manager Ron Washington, who was left to answer for his struggling team after a fourth consecutive loss, this one 4-2 to Toronto.
As usual, Washington tried to be positive and, as always, backed his guys. He took accountability for his role as the team’s leader. If the players aren’t going to take accountability, it will fall to Washington to shake them loose.
“It’s not the first time that I’ve struggled,” Washington said. “I’ve been through struggles as a player, I’ve been through struggles as a coach and I’ve been through struggles as a manager.
“You have to lead. You have to come positive every day. You have to make sure the proper work is getting done. Once that happens, you just have to put them out there, watch them play and hope that things click.”
Washington has a track record of rallying his club.
Remember the final week of last season? The Rangers won seven straight games to force a tiebreaker for the playoffs. Washington was behind that.
Just last month, the Rangers started hot behind some of Washington’s best managerial work.
In June 2013, the Rangers lost six straight home games, including three to the Blue Jays, but Washington led a team meeting to jump-start a sweep at St. Louis and two more wins at Yankee Stadium.
A month later, after a miserable weekend in Cleveland, Washington again got the Rangers going with an extended postgame meeting.
Another come-to-Washington meeting could be in order should the Blue Jays leave town Sunday with another sweep, though players continue to say that spirits are high after losses in nine of the past 12 games.
“Play better, pitch better, hit better, catch the ball. Just play better, get healthy,” right-hander Jason Frasor said. “I think morale is fine. We’re just getting beat. The morale is fine.”
Ross, starting because Matt Harrison is on the disabled list, did well after four straight poor starts, but he couldn’t get out of the fifth inning.
His troubles came in the first two innings, each time after he retired the first two batters. Jose Bautista, though, launched a two-out homer in the first, and the Blue Jays loaded the bases in the second but didn’t score after the first two batters were retired.
Ross had thrown 51 pitches after two, 36 of them with two outs. The inability to close out the first two innings caught up to him in the fifth, when he was pulled after throwing 91 pitches in 4 1/3 innings.
Thanks to a strong throw by Leonys Martin and a perfect block of home plate by Robinson Chirinos, the Rangers escaped the fifth in a 1-1 tie. But Toronto tallied a run in the seventh against Aaron Poreda for a 2-1 lead, and, after Luis Sardinas’ first career RBI in the bottom of the inning, scored single runs in the eighth and ninth to pull away.
The run in the ninth was unearned as Mitch Moreland, playing first base with Prince Fielder waiting for the anti-inflammatories to soothe the pinched nerve in his neck, dropped what should have been the second out of the inning on the back end of a double play.
There’s virtually no margin for error with this team. There hasn’t been all season with a banged-up pitching staff and an offense that hasn’t seen its stars produce consistently enough.
Andrus missed a chance in the third after Michael Choice had erased the Bautista homer with an RBI single. There was one out. Runners were at the corners. Andrus bounced into a double play and is now hitless in his last 27 at-bats with a runner in scoring position.
Coming through in those opportunities, Washington said, will help break the Rangers out of their funk.
“We’re just in a rut,” Moreland said. “We’re trying to get something going, just haven’t had a whole lot of luck with it. That’s about all you can say.”
It might be time for Washington to share what he has to say.