Anyone who has frequented any Rangers-oriented website for an extended period of time knows well that there are few subjects more provocative than Ron Washington. He's an old-school "baseball man" in a new-school environment, with a job description that entails the performance of his (on-the-field) duties in a highly visible setting and naturally demands heightened accountability. He's one of the more polarizing figures that this franchise has employed in the last decade (owing in no small part to last summer's transgression), and will no doubt remain that way until the date of his dismissal. He also played an unnervingly large role in last night's 13-inning loss, and not in what I would consider to be a good way, either.
According to multiple sources (including Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News), Washington issued a post-game mea culpa, admitting that he had neglected to order closer Neftali Feliz to begin warming up before the top of the ninth inning commenced. Washington, eager to tilt the matchups in his favor, elected to begin the frame with Darren Oliver on the mound versus the lefty-hitting Eric Chavez, after which a procession of right-handed batters would follow and it would make plentiful sense to summon Feliz ... except Feliz, by virtue of Washington's tardiness, faced the second right-handed batter rather than the first, and ended up being summoned into a sticky two-on, no-out situation. Disaster ensued.
Now, rewind to the bottom of the fifth inning. With the game deadlocked at 2-2, runners on first and second base and no outs and the exemplary-hitting Elvis Andrus standing in against a vulnerable Trevor Cahill, Washington yet again employed the sacrifice bunt -- a play that is useful in certain late-and-close situations, but makes little sense otherwise, given that it reduces your overall run expectancy and dramatically reduces your chances of cashing in with a big inning. Andrus ultimately dropped a successful 0-2 sacrifice bunt of his own volition even after Washington removed the bunt sign (a move which pleased the fourth-year skipper), but Texas failed to plate a single run thereafter.
Let's ignore for the moment the hows and whys of Washington's oversight as far as warming up Feliz; that, in and of itself, is baffling, but what this really does seem to boil down to is Washington failing to put his players in the best possible positions to succeed. Sure, Feliz was rocked after his eventual insertion into the game; he was also forced to rush his warm-up routine and enter an unnecessarily higher-leverage situation. Andrus? He's hitting .296/.415/.343 with some of the most visibly impressive patience and bat control of any early-20s player in the game. Why on earth does Washington continue to insist upon taking the bat out of the hands of one of his current best hitters?
At this point, the manager is who he is. He creates value through hands-on interaction with his players and whatever properties that enable him to maintain a cohesive, functional clubhouse, thereby "extracting the most out of his players." Conversely, he continues to exhibit a disturbing inability to grasp (and apply) some of the most basic principles and nuances of good in-game management, with this now being true to such an extent that it's impairing the team's chances of winning. And if you have a manager who's improperly handling his players and failing to maximize his team's chances of succeeding, aren't you obligated to at least reassess the managerial situation -- regardless of win-loss record?
Maybe I've simply been driven over the edge by last night's debacle (and to be clear, there is blame to be apportioned to the offense and the bullpen as well), but even with Texas sitting three games above .500 and clinging to a share of first place, my level of confidence in Washington is nearing record lows. And my patience is running out. If that makes me a knee-jerking reactionary, I guess I'll just have to learn to live with that.