General manager Jon Daniels opened last week by declaring that the upcoming road trip would be looked upon with a more critical eye after playing the waiting game in April.
Struggling Texas Rangers players, and there was no shortage of them, needed to start producing. The general assumption was that Daniels had second baseman Rougned Odor chief in his mind, but left-hander Wandy Rodriguez might have also been on the list.
After the seven-game stretch ended Sunday, Odor’s spot on the Rangers’ roster remained in jeopardy, but Rodriguez has fended off any thought of being replaced by Alex Gonzalez or Anthony Ranaudo.
All it took was setting a franchise record for consecutive batters retired over his two starts, both of which ended in a Rangers victory.
Rodriguez was perfect through five innings, giving him 34 straight outs dating to his previous start, and he allowed only one run in six innings before seeing the Rangers score once in the eighth and then hang on for a 2-1 victory against Tampa Bay.
The Rangers salvaged a split of their four-game series at Tropicana Field and finished the road trip at 5-2. That’s a pretty good response after starting the trip with the worst record in the American League.
“It was a good road trip,” third baseman Adrian Beltre said. “You always want to do better. It was nice to go back home with a win and hopefully keep that same mindset of getting better collective and win more ballgames.”
Beltre drove in both runs, with a homer to start the fourth and on a single in the eighth, and Neftali Feliz hit 98 mph as he retired the final two batters with the tying run at third base.
He got a big assist from catcher Carlos Corporan, who made a miraculous block on a ball in the dirt with two outs, and Elvis Andrus made another big defensive play by turning an Evan Longoria line drive into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded in the sixth.
“A gritty performance by Wandy, a wonderful defensive performance by Elvis, and everyone else in between,” manager Jeff Banister said. “These guys have responded.”
Rodriguez almost didn’t get out of the third inning after tweaking his back on his third pitch. He was given ample time to stretch and test out the back, and responded by retiring the next nine batters before Tim Beckham singled to start the sixth.
“I still feel pain, but nothing bad,” Rodriguez said. “I knew I had a good curveball, so I used it a lot. I tried to make good, quality pitches to every batter.”
The Rays pulled even three batters later, but Andrus prevented further damage with his nifty stop. Andrus sparked the winning rally in the eighth by working a leadoff walk and scoring two batters later on Beltre’s single to left.
Feliz did his best pitching with runners on the corners and one out, striking out Asdrubal Cabrera with three straight fastballs. Corporan then saved the game on the first pitch to Beckham before Feliz eventually got him to bounce into a fielder’s choice.
“I just stuck my glove out, and it hit my glove,” Corporan said.
Corporan and Beltre were unaware that Daniels had sounded the alarm in a conference call with beat writers. Upon learning of it, Beltre shouldered all the blame for the offense’s woes, including scoring two or fewer runs in 15 games.
“I have to be better,” he said. “I know the main reason we’re not doing better is because of me.”
Odor, though, could soon find himself at Triple A. He sat for a third straight game because, as Banister said, the Rangers need to get offense from their second basemen.
With his average at .144, Odor is skidding as others in the lineup start to produce. Shin-Soo Choo, for instance, is riding a 10-game hitting streak and has raised his average from .094 on May 1 to .183.
Odor would play every day if sent to Round Rock, and the Rangers believe that he is still a winning piece. He’s just isn’t that right now.
“I believe Odor is a second baseman that has the capabilities and is going to be part of the winning equation for us,” Banister said. “I felt like it was time to get Rosales in a few games and see if we can’t gain some traction with the bat and give Odor an opportunity to work, and then we’ll make a decision on what’s needed.”
For the most part, though, the Rangers answered Daniels’ call. Rodriguez might have saved his rotation spot, and Beltre and Choo are starting to produce at the plate.
“They know what’s at stake,” Banister said. “We’re still early, but we’re at a point now where we need to put some things together and start putting some W’s on the board.”
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760