Tanner Scheppers called his first major league start Monday “a dream come true.”
“It was something I’ll never forget,” the Texas Rangers’ right-hander said.
“And it was something I’d like to forget.”
Scheppers was far from alone on that wish Monday afternoon. A six-run second inning off Scheppers by the visiting Phillies was followed by a four-run sixth, and the Philadelphia bullpen took over from there to assure a less-than-memorable season opening defeat for the home team.
Yet, this was one debut that’s likely going to be hard to forget. The 14-10 score shattered the Rangers record for most combined runs in a season opener.
Even worse, the Rangers put 10 runs on the board on a day when Cliff Lee started for the Phillies.
Ten runs, including eight off the great Cliff Lee, and lost.
Ten runs — and the sellout crowd of 49,031 sat most of the day in silent dismay.
Ten runs — and after Scheppers was lifted following the fourth inning, the Rangers bullpen failed to record a 1-2-3 inning the rest of the day.
To his credit, Scheppers refused to use the “first start” excuse after the loss. Only 51 of his 93 pitches were strikes and he walked two, but he gave an abrupt “no” when he was asked whether his command issues were caused, perhaps, by the adrenaline of Opening Day.
“I just didn’t make quality pitches,” Scheppers said. “When you get two outs there, you’ve got to bear down and execute, and I didn’t.”
The three relievers who next followed him were little better. Their combined inefficiency made the Rangers’ early-inning comeback go for naught.
More than that, however, it hinted at a possible grave problem.
“There was a lot of discussion about the rotation with all the injuries we’ve had,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “But with some of the decisions we made, the impact of the injuries is probably going to be felt more in the bullpen, at least in the short term.”
By moving Scheppers and Robbie Ross from the bullpen into the starting rotation, and with expected closer Neftali Feliz having to go down to Triple A, manager Ron Washington’s relief corps has undergone a lengthy makeover.
Three of Monday’s relievers are new to the team. The final one to pitch, Seth Rosin, has been with the club less than a week.
Washington is still trying to figure out who can be counted upon to do what. With Scheppers only lasting four innings Monday, he hoped to get two innings out of 97-mph-throwing Pedro Figueroa. Instead, Marlon Byrd’s homer off the lefty lit the blow torch on a four-run sixth inning.
Alexi Ogando, back to pitching in a relief role, came in and promptly allowed two walks and two singles to the first four Phillies he faced. It made some question whether Ogando was adequately warmed up.
“He was up in plenty of time,” Daniels said. “I don’t know what it was, really. We just had a bad day pitching.”
With Yu Darvish scratched from the Opening Day start, the chances of any young Rangers starter — Scheppers, Ross, Martin Perez? — freezing in the stage lights in front of 49,031 were understandable.
But for now, the bullpen is a question mark. Which reliever is a dependable long man? One certainly was needed Monday. Who can be counted upon to come in and throw strikes?
“There are some things,” Washington said, “that we definitely have to correct.”
It won’t be Scheppers’ last opportunity to start. Nor should it be.
“He just kind of got out of sync today and lost his command,” Daniels said.
All but lost in the disappointing pitching was the reality that the Rangers themselves scored 10 runs and had 14 hits. The feared sinkhole at the bottom of the batting order accounted, instead, for seven hits and drove in six runs.
Ten runs — and yet the Rangers lost.
Ten runs — and the Rangers bullpen is still looking for its first 1-2-3 inning.
Ten runs — and Scheppers was calling it a day he’d rather forget.
There were 49,031 who knew exactly what he was talking about.