As frequently as manager Ron Washington and members of his Texas Rangers coaching staff plan for a season, there was no discussion about what to do if what has happened this season actually happened.
This type of season almost never happens. In the rare time that it does, there’s no plan for how to endure it.
As of first pitch Friday night, the Rangers had used the disabled list 20 times. They had 14 players on it with at least three who won’t come off it this year. They are Ben Rowen’s major-league debut away from using their 41st player, 23rd pitcher and 11th rookie.
Those numbers would be the most in the majors.
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The club record for DL uses in a season was 29 in 2004. The 2014 Rangers are two-thirds of the way there — in mid-June.
So Washington and his coaches are left to take whatever players general manager Jon Daniels gives them and coach their tails off.
They don’t want any sympathy or free passes or lowered expectations. They want to make the players they coach better even if those players aren’t ready for they roles they now have.
That includes pitching coach Mike Maddux, who looked on Friday night as second-year pitcher Nick Tepesch was tasked with holding down the Seattle Mariners as the Rangers tried to solve Felix Hernandez.
On Saturday, Maddux will watch Joe Saunders. Rookie Nick Martinez goes Sunday. Colby Lewis tries again Monday. Yu Darvish gets his nemesis, the Oakland A’s, on Tuesday.
Then it starts all over again with Tepesch.
That’s a bumpy road for any pitching coach, let alone one in the final year of his contract. But Maddux isn’t complaining about the hand he’s been dealt. He’s embracing the challenge.
“The challenge is fun,” Maddux said before the Rangers opened a three-game series at Safeco Field with a game that wasn’t finished at press time.
“It’s, ‘How are we going to get this done?’ We have youth and we have inexperience, and just getting to help the guys understand who they are and how they get their outs, it’s kind of fun to watch them figure it out.”
Maddux admits that a lot of headaches have been doled out while having all that “fun.”
Consider this: The Rangers lead the American League with 12 shutouts and are the first team since the 1969 Baltimore Orioles to have 12 in their first 66 games of the season. Fun.
However, the Rangers’ ERA in games in which they have surrendered a run is 5.59, and their overall ERA of 4.53 is worst in the American League and better in the majors than only Colorado. Not fun.
“That’s the challenge,” Maddux said. “We don’t give in to any tough challenges. We almost welcome them. I’d say oftentimes when we go out there, we may be the underdog. But that doesn’t keep us from pitching like we’re the favorite.”
He’s right. The Rangers are the underdogs four times through the five-man rotation. Most give the Rangers a chance only when Yu Darvish pitches, except against the A’s.
There’s also no lack of effort from Tepesch, Saunders, Martinez and Lewis — just a lack of stuff or stamina or know-how. That’s where Maddux and bullpen coach Andy Hawkins come in.
The key with Tepesch and Martinez is to make sure they don’t lose sight of their strengths. They are fastball pitchers, and they can’t succeed by shying away from their best pitch even if a scouting report suggests otherwise.
“We have to remember to keep things down to the basics, the brick-and-mortar of what we do,” Maddux said. “Good pitches work. Are they hitting our good pitches or hitting our mistakes? Chances are they’re hitting our mistakes.”
Without an overpowering fastball or wipeout off-speed pitches, the four starters not named Darvish can’t get away with mistakes. It’s a fine line. It’s a challenge already on top of the challenge of missing 60 percent of the projected starting rotation.
It’s a tough road for a pitching coach. Maddux, who deserves a contract extension, isn’t complaining.
“I have high expectations for myself to help all the pitchers, young and old, and my challenge is to make them a better competitor each day,” Maddux said. “I probably take the subpar performances as hard as they do, maybe harder, because I feel like maybe there was something I could have done to help them along.
“You can never be satisfied with the success you’ve had in the past, and you can’t get down on the failures you’ve had. You have to keep moving forward.”