As Nick Martinez’s pitch count soared to 103 in the fifth inning Sunday, it became apparent that the Texas Rangers would need four quality innings from their beleaguered bullpen if they wanted to avoid a three-game sweep.
Dun dun dun.
That’s the same bullpen that had posted a 6.27 ERA this month and allowed runs in nine of the past 11 games. The same bullpen that has blown the most saves in the league and allowed the most homers in the majors — 19 of them.
But the bullpen the Rangers unveiled in the finale against Cleveland wasn’t the same.
There were a few new pitchers and one new philosophy of no defined roles until they strike on the right formula that will help cure the bullpen’s woes.
It probably wasn’t discovered during a 5-1 victory over the Indians, but something worked as three relievers combined on four scoreless innings to help the Rangers snap a three-game slide.
“We’re going to continue to do anything to continue to put W’s on the board,” manager Jeff Banister said. “I brought all of our guys in, told each one of them that right now, as we sit, nobody has a specific role, that we’re going to find what’s the best match for the bullpen for this ball club.”
Ross Ohlendorf and Tanner Scheppers, who woke up Sunday morning in Colorado Springs with Triple A Round Rock, combined with Shawn Tolleson, who started warming up while the score was still in a save situation, to retire 12 of the final 13 Indians hitters.
Neftali Feliz, the closer who blew a save Saturday night, warmed up in the eighth inning and was available for the ninth. Banister, though, said that while Feliz isn’t the clear-cut closer, he will be available to save games if the matchups are right.
“You just have to always be ready,” Tolleson said. “There’s not going to be any roles. We’re just going to piece it together the best we can until we get back on track and get things rolling again down there. Today went really well.”
Martinez (3-0) didn’t have the same command Sunday that helped him become the Rangers’ Player of the Month in April, but he made pitches when he needed to. He allowed only one run in five innings, but he threw 103 pitches thanks to five hits, five walks, a hit batsman and six strikeouts.
His final pitch was his best pitch — a fastball at Michael Bourn’s knees on the inner half of the plate to escape the fifth inning with the bases loaded and the Rangers still up 2-1.
Ohlendorf, whose contract was purchased from Round Rock as Kyuji Fujikawa was designated for assignment, needed only 14 pitches in a 1-2-3 sixth, and Scheppers, who took the roster spot of injured starter Ross Detwiler, needed just 19 pitches to work perfect innings in the seventh and eighth.
Tolleson allowed a two-out single to red-hot Jason Kipnis to snap the bullpen’s string of 11 consecutive batters retired, but he struck out David Murphy to end it.
Scheppers, who was demoted to Round Rock on April 25, said that the time at Triple A helped him catch up after missing most of spring training. He had good action on his fastball, and he pitched with confidence.
“I wasn’t as fresh and as sharp as I should have been,” Scheppers said. “As a bullpen guy, you just have to be ready for anything and just pitch until the manager shakes your hand.”
Mitch Moreland went 2 for 4 with a two-run homer in the sixth inning that gave the Rangers some breathing room, and Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre also drove in runs. Beltre scored the game’s first run on an errant throw back to the infield after a second-inning double by Moreland.
The offense hasn’t been the Rangers’ problem this month as it was in April. Instead, the bullpen had been the weakest link, and the Rangers took steps to fix that Sunday. They ended their seven-game homestand with a 3-4 record ahead of a travel day to Boston, where they will begin a nine-game, three-city road trip Tuesday.
The bullpen Tuesday likely won’t shake out the way it did Sunday. There are no defined roles as the Rangers try to get their relievers going.
“We’re going to continue to look at the hitters that are coming up each inning and what’s the best fit and the best matchup with the best arms we have out there,” Banister said. “That’s how we’re going to treat it and try to find a rhythm out there in the bullpen, something we haven’t had in a while.
“We’ll see where that takes us and really what mix of pitchers steps up and shuts the door for us.”
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760