It has long been established that more than half of the Texas Rangers’ season has been dedicated to giving young, up-and-coming players a chance to get major league experience.
That has been a deciding factor in many of the roster moves, trades and personnel decisions the club has made during this long summer.
It’s also been reflected, at times, in the in-game decisions of Rangers manager Ron Washington, who has maintained an unflinching posture that winning remains his top priority.
That was Washington’s aim at a crucial moment in a 4-2 loss to the Houston Astros on Thursday in front of a crowd of 16,399 at Minute Maid Park.
With the Rangers clinging to a 2-0 lead in the fifth inning, Washington chose to replace starter Nick Tepesch with rookie reliever Roman Mendez after Tepesch had surrendered a single and a walk with one out in the inning.
Tepesch had thrown 89 pitches and struggled to get cleanly through innings after a 1-2-3 first. But he led 2-0 in the fifth and appeared reluctant to hand over the ball to Washington with the game in the balance. It seemed like a good opportunity to let Tepesch gain some more experience at battling through a tough inning and preserve the lead.
Mendez, who hadn’t allowed a run in his last eight outings (seven innings), promptly had the bases loaded after an infield single. Jason Castro then sent Mendez’s 2-0 fastball over the right-field wall for a grand slam and 4-2 lead.
The Astros are 9-4 against the Rangers this season and can clinch their first Silver Boot trophy since 2006 with a win Friday.
“I was ticked off at myself,” said Tepesch, who was charged with two runs on five hits in 4 1/3 innings. “Almost 90 pitches and not even five innings, that’s not too good. It was just one of those things where I was really frustrated with myself.”
It was the 89 pitches Tepesch had already thrown through four mostly laborious innings that caused Washington to make the move.
“He had a struggle from Pitch 1,” Washington said. “Every inning he was in trouble and in that [fifth] inning we got to the middle of their order and I felt like I needed to shut that inning down, but Mendez just couldn’t get it done. To me, it was where you either win or lose the game.”
Mendez had been impressive out of the bullpen for much of the summer, but he came over the plate to Castro, who was sitting on a fastball. Washington hoped Mendez would gain some more valuable experience, and confidence, working out of the jam.
“For him to come in and try to snap that inning off, of course, it bodes for the future, but I felt like he could come in and power the ball by them,” Washington said.
Tepesch, who allowed six runs in 6 1/3 in his last outing, said his command wasn’t much of an issue Thursday, although at times he missed around the edges too much.
“It was long innings, no clean innings really,” Tepesch said. “It’s tough to pitch deep into games when you throw so many pitches per inning. Any time you’re in the game you want to keep the ball as long as you can, but that’s not my call. I respect any call the coaching staff wants to make. They know how to handle games a lot better than I do.”
Before the game, Washington talked about Tepesch becoming “sharper and smarter” next season after learning to navigate through major league lineups this year.
“He’ll be aware of what his stuff is and how to use it,” Washington said. “He won’t be intimidated by big league hitters. Those are things he didn’t have last year. That will catapult him as a pitcher.”