Say what you will about Ricky Rodriguez, and there will be some more said below, but the kid with nine career appearances, the kid who started this season at somewhere called Down East, the kid who speaks English as his second language, was at his locker Saturday night to face the media.
No excuses. A professional interview. Nine career appearances.
The last two have been bumpy, and the one Saturday was particularly costly.
Here’s some Rangers Reaction from a 7-4 loss in 10 innings to the Los Angeles Angels.
1. The Rangers aren’t finished yet, not with 27 games to play and down only four games in the wild-card race, but that loss will be easy to point to as one of the daggers in their postseason push.
Of course, there are 15 other last at-bat losses to point to, too.
Up 4-2 with two outs and none on in the ninth, the Rangers managed to find a way to lose. Rodriguez was on his way to a nice rebound after a Friday meltdown, but Luis Valbuena doubled and C.J. Cron homered to tie it.
Jose Leclerc’s performance in the 10th was completely unacceptable, as he walked all three batters he faced. They all scored.
That one hurt. For those who like to read body language, the Rangers’ players weren’t displaying the best. A lot of muffled conversations. Heads down. Bodies slumped in chairs. Quick showers. Quicker exits.
The right things were said, stuff like “tough loss” and “we’ve got another game tomorrow” and “we can still win the series.” The best, of course, is “we still have time.”
And each of those things is true. Plenty of good could happen over the final four weeks, and the Rangers could make the playoffs for the third straight year.
The Rangers might get really hot in all facets, as Baltimore and Minnesota have. Adrian Beltre might bump into Mr. Miyagi. The Rangers might actually play a game in under four hours.
But for those who like to read body language, that one hurt.
2. How on earth did the Rangers get to the point where they had to choose between Rodriguez, Leclerc and Austin Bibens-Dirkx to close out a game?
Sam Dyson was terrible. Matt Bush wasn’t great and is now injured. Keone Kela is also hurt. Jake Diekman just returned to action after eight months of significant surgery and recovery time.
The internal moves to fix the bullpen didn’t fix it, and little was done to add help from outside the organization.
Tony Barnette has worked his way back into the good graces of manager Jeff Banister, so maybe he should have pitched the ninth instead of Rodriguez. A veteran with a closet full of saves in Japan vs. the stand-up rookie from Down East and Frisco.
That’s one way the manager could have gone. He also could have asked Alex Claudio to muster one inning out of a left arm that has logged 70 innings this season and cranked out 46 mostly stressful pitches the past two games.
Wait. How on earth did the Rangers get to the point where Claudio is their most-trusted reliever and closer?
This is known: The bullpen put the Rangers into the purgatory between the playoffs and the off-season. The Rangers still believe they are contenders, but are they just trying to fool themselves?
In Lincoln, Neb., the mighty Cornhuskers held off a game effort from Arkansas State, and that left Diekman likely breathing a sigh of relief. He’s a Nebraska native, and is well-versed enough in Cornhuskers lore to know that the 1995 team might be the best in college football history.
Diekman has also pitched on back-to-back nights on his first two nights on the active roster this season. He has retired all six batters he has faced, and with the Rangers searching for a dependable late-inning arm, he has had the right look.
“It’s two games,” Banister said.
Translation: He’s not going to be the Rangers’ closer, at least not yet.
Diekman might get two days off as the Rangers try to not overuse a pitcher who has been on the operating slab three times this year to have his plumbing reconstructed. Banister seemed hesitant to use him Saturday.
But the early indications are that Diekman is fine and that he will get better. The more he pitches, the stronger his arm will get and his velo will pick up. Velocity isn’t the be-all end-all and Diekman is doing just fine at 94 mph, but it doesn’t hurt.
He would almost certainly take on the closer’s role, but the Rangers aren’t inclined to give it to him.