Four times in this young season, pitcher Tanner Scheppers has been given the opportunity to start for the Texas Rangers.
Three times the Rangers have lost, and Thursday’s 8-6 victory over the Seattle Mariners came only after Scheppers had given up a six-run third inning.
“A bump in the road,” pitching coach Mike Maddux called it, tactfully.
The big question, however, had to be asked.
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After four troublesome outings in a row, is it time to end the grand experiment of converting set-up man Scheppers into a starter?
Manager Ron Washington said after the game that Scheppers’ immediate future is not an issue.
“No, there’s nothing that crossed my mind,” Washington said. “We know it’s a work in progress.”
Progress, however, is usually defined by movement toward a goal, not a left turn away from it. Scheppers faced 16 Mariners on Thursday and nine reached base. It was his shortest appearance of the season and greatly burdened an already well-exercised bullpen.
And whereas Scheppers was able to overcome a five-run fourth Saturday and go on to pitch three more innings, this time he failed to finish the third.
As Scheppers explained, “It wasn’t good pitches and they capitalized on it. They’re good hitters. They’re going to hit mistakes.
“Sometimes you just get beat and have to tip your cap, focus on the next one and continue working.”
Was he worried, I asked him, about there being a “next one?”
“No,” Scheppers answered in one word.
He probably is right, of course. Matt Harrison is continuing to recover from back surgery and is said to be two more worthy rehab starts away from rejoining the Rangers. But pulling the rug from under Scheppers after only four regular-season starts just doesn’t seem like something the Rangers would do.
“No, I’m not ready to,” Maddux said. “Sometimes similar to what we went through with Martin Perez, you’ve just got to be able to control your emotions. When it gets going, you’ve got to be able to step off and gather yourself.”
Command of his pitches wasn’t Scheppers’ only problem Thursday, Maddux said.
“There have been some command issues,” he said, “but sometimes we throw emotional pitches, instead of ‘thought-out’ pitches. Our emotions get the best of us sometimes, and we just throw instead of pitch.”
Scheppers’ disappointing ledger to date also has suffered by being inevitably compared to Robbie Ross, who is also trying to convert from a bullpen role.
Ross has been effective, if not necessarily electric. He’s also been resourceful, while Scheppers has struggled to make the right pitch.
“I don’t think I’ve pitched to my ability,” Scheppers said. “Yeah, it’s frustrating, but all I can do is move on.
“I can’t change the past. All I can do is take the next step forward.”
That next step should come Tuesday in Oakland. Though the Rangers could elevate rookie Nick Martinez to make his second big-league start or call up Nick Tepesch, it seems likely that Scheppers will take his scheduled turn, while Harrison’s progress is further monitored.
Going unsaid Thursday was what happens when Harrison returns around the end of the month. Removing Scheppers from the rotation would have the benefit of bolstering the bullpen.
No one doubts Scheppers’ abilities as a bullpen set-up man.
But Thursday’s outing was, indeed, a bump in the road. A bump that followed three potholes.
He isn’t likely to be allowed any more.