Regarding that mushroom cloud you may have seen billowing over the ballpark for the past two days:
Nothing to be concerned about, the Texas Rangers said.
These things happen.
Maintenance is on it.
You’re not going to believe this, in fact, but the bullpen might have been the most consistently dependable thing about the Rangers during their Arizona spring training sojourn.
The eight arms in the Opening Day bullpen posted a combined 2.31 ERA in 52 spring outings. They struck out 55 in 58 innings, while opponents batted only .194.
They were electric. All of them. Trust me.
And thus, fueled by what my own eyeballs had seen in three-plus weeks of earnest Cactus League observation, I willingly bought into the notion that this is — trumpets, please — the Best Bullpen in Rangers History.
Deeper. Older. Craftier.
And then Robinson Cano came to town.
“I hope you know me by now, not going to panic,” manager Jeff Banister said.
“We’ve got to be better, no doubt. We’ve got to be better in those situations. We’ve got to look at the walks.”
Game 1 of the series was grand, Banister correctly pointed out. Jake Diekman and Shawn Tolleson came on in relief and threw two perfect innings to preserve a 3-2 Opening Day triumph.
But Tuesday night four Rangers relievers turned a close game into a 10-2 spanking by allowing an ugly, six-run eighth inning.
And then came Wednesday, when Tolleson turned a save opportunity into an implosion, and Cano and the Seattle Mariners won again 9-5.
Over the three-game series, Rangers relievers pitched eight total innings and allowed 17 hits and 14 runs. Seattle relievers pitched seven innings, allowed one hit, no runs and struck out 12.
“It stinks,” Tolleson said. “We never want to give up runs. I wish we had won all three games and thrown the seventh, eighth and ninth of all three games and not given up a hit. We want to be a dominant bullpen. That’s our goal.
“We really just haven’t gotten it done these last two games, so we have to change. We have to turn things around.”
Tolleson wasn’t trying to be glib. He stood tall at his locker after the game and answered every question.
He was also correct to endorse the suggestion that the two games constituted a “small sample size” within the prism of a 162-game season.
“It’s funny how this game works,” Banister said. “You look back at last year at this time, and it was somewhat similar, in a sense.”
The manager is right. For the first four months of last season, much bandwidth and newsprint were consumed in lamenting how inefficient Banister’s bullpen was.
“We’ve got some work to do — we know that,” he said. “We know those bats are going to get hot. We believe in our offense. We believe in our defense and how we can play. And our starters have given us quality outings.
“We’ll sharpen up. We’ll get it going in the right direction.”
Banister was more distressed about the six walks that his pitchers allowed to the Mariners on Wednesday. The six free passes — three by the relievers, three by starter Colby Lewis — meant that Cano and the top of the Seattle lineup got to bat five times each.
“You give hitters multiple at-bats, long looks, they become better hitters,” Banister asserted.
Tolleson wasn’t looking for disclaimers, but his telltale ninth inning did begin with a ground ball that squeezed through the infield, a shanked single to left field and a pitch in on the hands that Leonys Martin plunked weakly for an opposite-field double. There was nothing cheap, however, about Kyle Seager’s two-run single and Cano’s homer that followed.
Boom! There went the three-game series.
True, there are 159 games yet to play, but a team with championship aspirations had better not lose too many to the Seattle Mariners, a sorta-hybrid rebuilding team that, all Canos aside, will likely battle the Athletics for last place in the AL West.
There are, at most, two Mariners who would start in the Rangers lineup — Cano and Nelson Cruz.
But talk is cheap. The Best Bullpen in Rangers History imploded conspicuously for two days. The Rangers played like pretenders, not contenders.
Maintenance is on it, though, the manager said. It’s a small sample size.
They played like champs in Arizona. Honest.