The All-Star break, it turns out, did the Texas Rangers plenty of good. They could probably use another couple after their marathon Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium.
But the four days off last week provided an overdue break for a group of mostly inexperienced players just looking to get by as they experience significant big-league playing time for the first time.
Their young bodies were fine. Their young minds, though, might have been fried.
“A lot of those guys were probably beat down more mentally than physically,” manager Ron Washington said. “When you’re in survival mode, it wears on you.”
Nick Martinez had been off since July 1, nursing soreness in his left side as a member of the Rangers’ extensive list of disabled players. While his body needed the three-week hiatus, his mind also needed it.
The results of his layoff, as well as the break everyone else got, continued to be evident against the Yankees. The Rangers, gasp, are playing good baseball.
It’s not just good relative to their eight-game slide entering the break. Compared to that, the Rangers look like World Series contenders.
They’re not, of course, but they have been better in the first five games of the second half. For a club now measuring success based on the strides their young players are making and not necessarily on wins and losses, better is something.
Even their 2-1 loss to the Yankees continued a trend of better, though there were still plenty of mistakes throughout the 4-hour, 51-minute, 14-inning marathon.
“I see baseball starting to be played again,” Washington said. “Now our success depends on us getting these young guys that are in this lineup to be better players. Get those young pitchers we have to understand what it’s like to be a competitive pitcher at the major-league level.
“Going out there feeling entitled is not it. That’s why we’re out there working every day.”
J.P. Arencibia thought he had won the game with a homer to open the 13th, but Joakim Soria couldn’t nail down a save for the second straight night as the Rangers’ record dropped to 2-3 in the second half.
But Martinez was better, throwing 5 1/3 scoreless innings. Roman Mendez continues to impress out of the bullpen. Rougned Odor’s defense at second base was flawless.
“There was a lot of good stuff,” Washington said. “We played solid defense. We certainly pitched well. They had opportunities and we were able to make pitches.
“We didn’t give them the game. They beat us.”
The Rangers did good things to escape Yankees threats in the ninth, 11th and 12th innings, and even the 13th after Jacoby Ellsbury had tied the game and was at third base with one out but didn’t score.
But the bats were largely silent, especially from the bottom of a lineup crowded by inexperienced players and especially after their last threat in the eighth. There were base-running mistakes and a defensive foul-up in the 12th inning that nearly led to a 1-0 loss.
Some veterans — Shin-Soo Choo, Elvis Andrus and Leonys Martin chief among them — need to clean things up, too. Those three can be good and inconsistent all in the same inning.
To improve, the Rangers have to keep working, and it was a really long day for many of the Rangers who were on the field for early work on fundamentals. How fundamental? Cutoffs and relays.
“Baseball one, zero, one,” Washington said.
“We’re definitely trying to clean up the fundamentals. I’m talking about fundamentals of the game, things that when you’re surviving you’re taking for granted. All you’re concerned about is surviving. You forget about what makes the team a success.”
There’s still work to do, but the improvement is plainly visible. After all, none of their wins since the All-Star break have been cheap.
“The last [five] games, for me, have been good,” third baseman Adrian Beltre said. “You don’t want to remember what happened before the All-Star break. I don’t think anybody was happy with the way we played. To take some time off and refresh you mind and come back and try to do better in the second half, and so far it’s been a little better.
“There’s a lot of improvement to make.”