Buzzkills. Party poopers. Debbie Downers.
Whatever demeaning description you want to attach to the Texas Rangers’ bullpen these days, it probably fits.
Take Thursday’s one-run ball game, for example, in front of a muted midweek audience of 33,818 that was just waiting for something to happen.
Relievers Anthony Bass and Sam Freeman followed Ross Detwiler to the mound in the sixth inning for the home team, and boom! Something did.
Bass allowed a double and a single and was swiftly lifted. But manager Jeff Banister’s choice, lefty Freeman, surrendered a two-run home run on an 0-2 pitch to Kansas City’s Eric Hosmer.
The Royals’ 3-2 lead was suddenly 6-2, and the defending American League champs went on to earn the series split.
Trying to be considerate, Banister replied when asked about the 0-2 homer, “We’ve had some situations where that has been a little problematic for us out of the bullpen. The home runs out of the bullpen there — those do sting you.
“You bring in guys that you feel confident with in those type situations. They get ahead, and it comes down to execution of the pitch.”
It’s not the first time that pitches haven’t been executed in this struggling Rangers season. Even as the lineup has come alive, winning eight of its past 13 games, the Texas bullpen has struggled.
Rangers relievers have allowed runs in seven of nine games this month and have a team earned run average in May of 6.00. In the first 14 games of the month, the bullpen has given up 12 home runs.
That’s just awful.
The bullpen also has allowed 15 of 19 inherited runners to score in May — terrible.
And the relievers already have six blown saves. Which means that if they had done their job even half of those times, the Rangers would be above .500 instead of 15-20 and in fourth place.
Two weeks ago, as a disappointing April lapsed into May, general manager Jon Daniels shouldered the blame for the underperforming bullpen.
“We knew we were going to need some younger guys to seize roles and move forward,” Daniels said after Thursday’s 6-3 loss.
“We’re still looking, though, for the right mix. Banny is still trying to identify the right roles.
“It’s not a throw-it-against-the-wall approach. We’re just not there yet.”
Logan Verrett, Jon Edwards, Phil Klein, Roman Mendez, Stolmy Pimentel and Spencer Patton — they have all pitched out of the Texas bullpen this season. The latest wave saw Kyuji Fujikawa arrive Thursday to replace Patton.
You usually get what you pay for, however, when assembling a major league bullpen. Daniels, for the most part, has disdained rewarding relief pitchers with multi-year deals. None of the current Rangers relievers has more than a one-year contract.
The Royals, on the other hand, made their bullpen an off-season priority. They are so deep in arms, Jason Frasor, a solid middle-inning contributor for the Rangers for two seasons before being traded to Kansas City, has been used for only 11 innings this season.
As he pieced together his team for this season, Daniels elected to go with non-roster invitees such as Joe Beimel, Michael Kirkman and Jamey Wright. With Alex Claudio’s recent slide, the club still doesn’t appear to have any lefties in the bullpen who can reliably get left-handed hitters out.
“To succeed in the pen, you need to get swings and misses and ground balls,” Daniels said. “We haven’t had much of either.”
Not all of the bullpen has been turning close games into dumpster fires. When the Rangers have a lead, Banister’s relievers of choice tend to be a combination of Shawn Tolleson, Keone Kela and closer Neftali Feliz — and they have shown to be dependable.
Banister hopes Fujikawa can join that mix and, soon, the rehabbing Tanner Scheppers.
His bullpen has been a buzzkill, but Banister hesitated Thursday to paint it with negatives.
“I expect them to execute pitches,” he said. “I’m not sure that ‘discouraged’ is the word. We need to see guys, when they come in, to execute pitches. We need to see that. That’s what we’re looking for.”
In the meantime, they’re ruining the party.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697