The Texas Rangers didn’t need to throw their bullpen closer under the bus.
Nope. Shawn Tolleson, instead, drove the bus off the cliff himself Tuesday night.
And while manager Jeff Banister would only say that the closer job remains subject to daily review, he has to know that for the foreseeable future, he can’t depend upon Tolleson to get the job done.
The blown save Tuesday was Tolleson’s fourth of the season and second in four games. Worse, it continues a downward trend for Tolleson that began as far back as last August.
Since Aug. 22 of last season – roughly a half-season of work – the one-time 30th-round draft choice has pitched in 37 games and 31 2/3 innings, and he’s allowed 42 hits and eight home runs.
Opponents are batting .309 against him and have an on-base-plus-slugging of .905.
As Banister told our Rangers beat writer, Jeff Wilson, "I definitely have a level of concern there. I’m not ready tonight to make a reactionary decision or statement on that. We’ve got to be able to make pitches in that situation at the end of the game."
I don’t know how Banister could have been any more diplomatic or clearer, just minutes after watching his closer give up a walk-off grand slam.
So what can the Rangers do?
The first thing is to remove Tolleson immediately from all late-inning, high-leverage pitching roles. When a reliever starts regularly blowing leads that the lineup has worked hard all night to get, it would shake the team’s confidence if the manager tried to use the same guy.
Just guessing here, but Tolleson likely will be asked to get his act together in a lesser role, like something before the seventh inning.
That would make Sam Dyson the heir apparent to the closer job, and move Jake Diekman and Matt Bush into the set-up roles.
In short, the Rangers bullpen, expected before the season to be one of the team’s foremost strengths, has been a major disappointment and the main reason why Texas doesn’t stand alone in first place.
Despite his $3.1-million salary, underperforming relief pitcher Tom Wilhelmsen was sent down to Triple-A Round Rock this week. But there’s a measure of history in the move – a similar demotion last year allowed Wilhelmsen to regroup and finish the season strongly.
Tolleson has no such remedial strategy to turn to. He simply impressed as a set-up man in 2014 and took over the closer role in late May of last season. He enjoyed only three outstanding months in the role, before his effective stuff began to elude him.
Say this for general manager Jon Daniels and the front office: They have been proactive in identifying whom to best put on the field.
The club moved quickly to acquire Ian Desmond during spring training, just hours after learning that injured Josh Hamilton wouldn’t be able to start the season. When Shin-Soo Choo went on the disabled list, rookie Nomar Mazara was summoned.
Catcher Chris Gimenez was activated from the disabled list and replaced by Bobby Wilson. Pitcher Anthony Renaudo had a disastrous night, walking five in one inning, and found himself traded two days later to the White Sox.
Tough pennant races call for tough decisions.
And after what happened again Tuesday night in Oakland, this one isn’t really tough at all.