Well, that was disappointing:
- Fact: The Rangers have lost two consecutive games via walk-off hits in the bottom of the ninth inning. Fact: Bullpen demigod Neftali Feliz did not appear in either game. Inference: Ron Washington -- and, perhaps even more relevantly, Mike Maddux, though very few people seem keen on bringing him up as well in the context of pitching-change responsibility -- mismanaged the bullpen in both games, because he failed to appropriately deploy his best relief pitcher in two different high-leverage situations. (Why do I feel like we've been here before?) I've gone back and forth a bit on how the Rangers should have optimized their bullpen usage over these last two days, which suggests to me that the answers aren't as obvious as some would like to think, but let's look at how each situation was set up anyway.
On Tuesday, Darren O'Day went single-ground out-walk-strikeout-walk before yielding the game-winning single to Miguel Cabrera, with Feliz never stirring to begin warming up at any point during the rally. It could be that Texas didn't want to go through the process of warming him and using him in a third consecutive game after having amassed 42 total pitches in the previous two games (though he did pitch in three consecutive games on no fewer than three separate occasions last season), or it could be that by the time the thought to get Feliz up struck the dugout, it was already too late. The greater likelihood is that Washington and Maddux wanted to exhibit some trust in O'Day and his ability (or ultimate lack thereof) to escape from his self-created jam, and were also concerned about pushing Feliz to such an extent so early in the season -- and, well, that isn't so great, but there you go.
On Wednesday, however, the late-inning pitching situation was dire enough in nature that only O'Day (who Texas probably wasn't eager to deploy again so soon after what had gone down the previous afternoon), Pedro Strop (who had also pitched on Tuesday), and Feliz were still available, and there was an expectation in place that Darren Oliver could successfully mow through the 8-9-1 hitters in the bottom of the ninth; had the Rangers turned to Feliz instead at the outset of the inning instead of sticking with Oliver for a second inning, they would have shortened the capacity of the bullpen to deal with extra innings by a full inning, and been completely ill-equipped to deal with any game that had lasted beyond the 12th inning or so.
I'm guessing the plan was to use Feliz to deal with the heart of Detroit's batting order in the following inning, and, with that being the case, and with the Rangers still needing another good inning even if they had scored in the top of the 10th inning, it made the most sense to try and ride Oliver out for another inning -- logic that I really can't disagree with, no matter how calamitous the outcome. The reality of the matter is that Feliz will probably be used similarly to how he was last year; that is, correctly most of the time, and questionably here and there, and people will get up in arms over the perceived mistakes. That's fine and all, but not every perceived mistake is actually a mistake.
- Guess the owner of this pitching line: 6.1 innings, 18 hits, 13 earned runs, three walks, and one strikeout. That would be Mark Lowe's pitching line between his three 2010 regular season appearances after coming over to Texas in the Cliff Lee trade, his couple of World Series appearances, and the totality of his appearances with Texas this season. Jason Parks remarked on Twitter tonight that Lowe flashed good velocity on his fastball on Wednesday, but "Low-A command and [a] fat slider." It is hard to fathom that the Rangers couldn't find something more usable in their minor league reserves, and that Lowe wouldn't be best served working out his problems at Triple-A Round Rock, and I would imagine that the blown save on Wednesday has whittled his remaining leash down to a thread. Running with an eight-man bullpen is iffy enough as it is; doing it so you can carry a pitcher who has given you nothing since being acquired and doesn't appear to be on the verge of figuring it out is, well, pointless.