Texas Rangers

Rangers Reaction: More than just bullpen to blame for 1-3 start to homestand

Marcus Semien's leadoff homer in the ninth was part of a long and, ultimately, miserable night for the Rangers' bullpen.
Marcus Semien's leadoff homer in the ninth was part of a long and, ultimately, miserable night for the Rangers' bullpen. The Associated Press

This is a pitching-heavy edition of Rangers Reaction, and after Monday, well, there's good reason for it.

Before getting to all the gory details, here's a recap on what the Texas Rangers' offense did to open a three-game series against the Oakland A's:

Not nearly enough.

Here's some Rangers Reaction from a 9-4 loss.

1. Multiple-choice question: What is the primary cause for the Rangers going 1-3 to open this homestand?

1. The bullpen

2. The darn bullpen

3. The rotation

4. The offense

5. All of the above.

The bullpen will be popular answer, though the offense scored 2 and 3 runs in two of the losses and the rotation has had only one pitcher finish six innings. The relievers, however, couldn't keep leads in two of them and couldn't keep the game tied Monday night.

Bullpens aren't going to be perfect every time out, as was demonstrated in spectacular fashion by the 2017 Rangers. The 2018 version, which the Friday Rangers Reaction said had a passing grade (albeit on a curve), has done a fine impersonation in each game this homestand.

Let's relive each one:

Friday: Chris Martin allows the game-tying homer in the eighth, and closer Keone Kela allows three of the four Seattle runs in the ninth.

Saturday: Alex Claudio fails to retire any of the four batters he faces in the seventh, squandering a two-run lead. Matt Bush, who finished the sixth, should have pitched the seventh.

Sunday: Bush quickly allows two runs in the seventh, and Jake Diekman manages to keep the tying run at bay. Kela rebounds after the first two Mariners reach in the ninth.

Monday: The bullpen works three scoreless innings before the A's rattle of six runs against Kevin Jepsen and Jesse Chavez to break a 3-3 tie. Kela did not pitch in a situation normally reserved for closers.

Manager Jeff Banister said the impact the increased workload the previous three games dictated the bullpen decisions, including Jepsen over Kela.

The Rangers were without Martin and Diekman and the offense hadn't exactly been knocking on the door, so Banister wanted to protect the Rangers against extra innings.

He said that he would have gone to Kela had the Rangers scored in the eighth but stayed with Jepsen to try to squeeze three more outs from him while avoiding pitching Kela in three of the past four games.

Marcus Semien ambushed a first-pitch fastball that missed its location and crushed it for a home run. The Rangers couldn't stop the A's after Matt Chapman's two-out RBI triple.

Jepsen didn't make any excuses, but he explained the pitfalls relievers face in the first month after a spring in which their appearances are staged. Once a season starts, relievers never know when they enter a game or for how long. They go back-to-back far more frequently than just the one time to end spring training.

Throw in travel, dry humps and learning new surroundings and new hitters from the other league or the minors, and a bullpen's road can get really bumpy. The starters are going through some of the same stuff, too.

"The first month of the season is always finicky," Jepsen said. "You're getting used to the season. Once you get to May, June and July, you're on a run and you're used to it. The first season of the month is just part of it. Hopefully, you get through the first month with as little damage as possible."

The damage has piled up the past four games.

2. Matt Moore wasn't as good as he was April 17 at Tampa Bay, when he allowed one run in seven innings, but he wasn't as ineffective as he was in his first two starts of the season.

He did the bare minimum for starter, giving his team a chance to win, for the third time in five starts this season. Sure, he could have done more, like finishing six innings, but the game was tied when he departed after five innings plus one batter.

"I feel like I pitched out of some situations and gave us a chance to win," he said.

Here's how the Rangers' rotation fared the last time through, starting with Cole Hamels on Wednesday:

Hamels: Four runs in 6 1/3 innings, left trailing 4-1.

Mike Minor: One run in 5 1/3 innings, left trailing 1-0.

Bartolo Colon: Four runs in 5 2/3 innings, left leading 5-4.

Martin Perez: Two runs in six innings, left leading 5-2.

Moore: Three runs in five-plus innings, left tied 3-3.

Even in the Hamels start, the Rangers had a chance to win. The problem is they went only 1-4 and put a heavy load on the bullpen.

But the starters pitched to a 4.55 ERA, which is actually an improvement over the previous time through the rotation despite Colon's gem at Houston. The Rangers opened the above stretch with a 5.25 ERA from their starters, a figure that sits at 5.11 after Moore's latest performance.

That's not much, but, hey, that's something for this team.

Hamels will start Tuesday, and Doug Fister will come off the disabled list to start Wednesday. The Rangers will have six healthy starters, and as the big board in the manager's office shows, each will get his next start as the Rangers remain committed to giving Mike Minor extra rest.

With games on 12 straight days after Thursday's off day, each could get his next two starts.

That's looking too far ahead. The trend, at least over this last time through the rotation, shows the Rangers starters going upward. It's not much, but, hey, it's something.

3. If the bullpen is in as dire straights from a rest stand point as is being suggested, a roster move could be coming Tuesday. Connor Sadzeck and Nick Gardewine, members of the 40-man roster, each pitched Monday for Triple A Round Rock but threw five and 10 pitches.

The biggest thing that could happen for the relievers Tuesday is for Hamels to pitch deep into the game. Nine innings would be awfully nice. Seven innings seem doable.

Another factor in the bullpen's usage issues is Banister's propensity for pulling a starter if things get tight in a tight game. Moore, for instance, was allowed to face Matt Olson to start the sixth in a left-on-left matchup, but was pulled after Olson singled.

Three right-handed hitters were coming and Moore was at 86 pitches. Going to Jose Leclerc made sense, with the next two hitters 3 for 4 against Moore, and ended up working out just fine. Moore lamented failing to get Olson.

"I've got to have Olson," Moore said. "I'm sure Skip leaves me in there for the next two outs. That's on me not getting the lefty."

Banister said that his hand has been forced by similar situations this season. It's not a good hand. In close games, starters haven't had a long leash.

Hamels' leash might be the longest its been this season, though. It was longer last week at Tampa Bay, when he was allowed to start the seventh after a three-run sixth. He has built up the equity, as Banister likes to say, as one of the game's top starters the past 12 years.

Hamels is the Rangers' ace, and aces do things like give bullpens a break.

The Rangers' bullpen needs a break.

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