Injuries forced the Texas Rangers into the mess that developed Friday night at Tropicana Field, as fill-in Joe Saunders was knocked around by Tampa Bay and then knocked out.
All those fielding miscues and a significant gaffe on the bases didn’t help the Rangers’ cause, either.
Saunders, in perhaps his first and only start with the Rangers this season, allowed five runs in 3 2/3 innings before he was smacked by an Evan Longoria line drive and forced to leave the game.
The ensuing three Rays runs only added to a long night for the Rangers to open a six-game road trip.
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Sean Rodriguez hit one of the Rays’ two three-run homers and drove in four runs, and Jake Odorizzi allowed only three singles in six innings as Tampa Bay rolled to an 8-1 victory.
But it seemed worse than that.
“It was just one of those days,” first baseman Prince Fielder said. “You can’t say much about it. Everyone played hard. It just didn’t go our way. We’ll have to come back tomorrow and get it straightened out.”
Aside from a scoreless inning apiece from Pedro Figueroa and Alexi Ogando, not much else went right for the Rangers at a time when they have little margin for error behind their patchwork pitching staff.
Third baseman Adrian Beltre committed two of their four errors. Two of the gaffes, one by Fielder and Beltre’s first, came during the same fifth-inning at-bat and contributed to an unearned run scoring on a three-run homer by Ryan Hanigan.
Elvis Andrus’ error in the third led to an unearned run on Rodriguez’s towering homer. Rodriguez had driven in the first Rays run when he was hit by a Saunders pitch with two outs and the bases loaded.
“We certainly didn’t help on the defensive end, either,” manager Ron Washington said. “We certainly have to tight down our defense. When there are outs out there to be gotten, we’ve got to get them. We don’t have a pitching staff that strikes people out right now, and we certainly can’t have them getting four outs an inning.”
Down 4-0, the Rangers’ best chance against Odorizzi was squandered by a blunder on the bases. Fielder had singled to start the inning — the Rangers’ first hit — and with one out Alex Rios and Mitch Moreland singled.
Fielder, though, stopped as he rounded third. Moreland never broke stride and headed for second, where Rios had stopped because Fielder had stopped.
The traffic jam forced Fielder to contemplate going for home, and he was out in a rally-killing rundown. He took the blame, saying he got a poor jump and didn’t pick up third-base coach Gary Pettis, who was waving him home.
“Prince just blew it,” Washington said.
X-rays on Saunders’ ankle were negative, and he was diagnosed with a bruise after Longoria’s liner hit the outside of his foot and caromed into foul territory near the first-base coach’s box.
No immediate decision was made on if Saunders will make his next start, though the return of Yu Darvish and an off day Thursday could push Saunders back to April 15.
He could be pushed out of the rotation altogether.
Colby Lewis could be declared ready to join the rotation during the next homestand after his next Triple A start Sunday. That would give the Rangers six starters for a five-man rotation: Darvish, Lewis, Saunders, Tanner Scheppers, Martin Perez and Robbie Ross.
Saunders could end up getting released to create room for Lewis. Nick Martinez, who will make his major league debut Saturday, is expected to be optioned to the minors Sunday to create a roster spot for Darvish.
Saunders, who was wearing a boot to help keep swelling down, wasn’t sure if he will be able to make his next start, which would be Friday if the Rangers stay on rotation.
“Ask me tomorrow,” said Saunders, who allowed six hits and walked three. “It’s hard to put pressure on right now. Yeah, it hurts, but I’ll be fine.”