Before going any further this morning, a bit of necessary disclosure: I've mellowed a bit in my (relatively) old age, at least with respect to managers. I arrived at a state of peace last year with what Ron Washington and company are and aren't as baseball men, and nothing that has transpired since has dislodged me from that state of peace. If you're looking for a fire-and-brimstone post brutally excoriating the entire coaching staff for what went down less than 12 hours ago, I'm sorry to disappoint.
And with all that being said, I can now say with a clear conscience that I still don't understand what in the hell went down in Arlington last night.
As I see it, there were two distinct late-game issues last night that helped torpedo what should have been a close but easy Rangers win (and sweep) -- first, Josh Hamilton not scoring from third base on a ground ball that would have scored him under ordinary circumstances with one out in the bottom of the eighth inning, and second, the complete ninth-inning meltdown of Neftali Feliz at home against the worst team in baseball. Both of these were tied in some way to the thought processes of the coaching staff, and now that we're all a bit more emotionally disconnected from the game itself, we can set about looking at each through an objective lens:
- What made Hamilton's inability to score from third base such a hot-button issue was the fact that he was visibly grasping at his hamstring after rolling into the bag on Michael Young's run-scoring double, yet wasn't attended to by the training staff on the field and was left in the game. Moments later, Nelson Cruz whacked a grounder back through the middle that eluded pitcher Mark Melancon's glove and was fielded by second baseman Jeff Keppinger with his momentum taking him away from home plate, and even though the infield was drawn in with the Astros already down two runs, there very likely wouldn't have even been a play at the plate if Hamilton had elected to take off. But he didn't.
Here's the thing: You've got Craig Gentry, arguably the fastest runner and best defensive outfielder on the team, sitting on your bench. You've got a gimpy Hamilton out at third base *, looking to score an insurance run late in the game. You've got the lead, and now the lead priority becomes defensive optimization. This, to me at least, remains a baffling non-call (as it was at the time to both Eric Nadel and Steve Busby, and no doubt plenty of other people on the Rangers' payroll), as Hamilton didn't seem capable of running at full speed at that moment and, even more importantly, had momentarily lost his conviction in his speed. I realize that things may have played out differently even if Gentry had been subbed for Hamilton there and the run may not have scored anyway (Cruz could have popped up, for instance), but this was a really frustrating sequence of ... well, non-events, I guess you could call it.
[* - Hamilton, for his part, told Rangers officials after the game that he was merely sore after a deep massage treatment on his legs, and his "injury" isn't considered serious. That still doesn't change the spirit of the argument I've presented here or the conclusions of the analysis, though.]
- And then, of course, there was Feliz, who logged 35 pitches across two innings on Tuesday night, was declared available for Wednesday night because, in Washington's words, he threw "effortlessly" the night before, and ended up rocked for four runs on four hits in just two-thirds of an inning. During the media's obligatory post-mortem prodding, Feliz stated that he felt "good" and that his arm was "okay," and that the cause of his struggles was simply leaving the ball up in the zone. Washington, for his part, didn't second-guess his decision, and said that there was nothing there to indicate that Feliz was tired or that fatigue played a role in his collapse.
A couple of thoughts here, after having had a bit of time to chew on this: Feliz looked absolutely fantastic on Tuesday, then looked decidedly worse on Wednesday with worse command, fastball velocity, tightness on the breaking ball -- the whole nine yards. He also put in a lot of work on Tuesday, so it's pretty easy to arrive at the conclusion that he was fatigued, that he was full of it when he said his arm felt "good" (of course, pitchers are very rarely ever forthright about the condition of their arms at any given time), and that running him out there again so soon after such a heavy workload the night before was a recipe for disaster, with the blood from this loss being all over Ron Washington's and Mike Maddux's hands.
That's the easy conclusion. Now, there's this to consider: correlation does not equal causation. You know this, I know this, we all know this. Moreover, Feliz has looked completely out of sorts on more than one occasion this season even with the benefit of full rest. I do think there's a fairly good chance that fatigue and Feliz's struggles were interrelated, but that is not necessarily the case -- and one of the other things we have to consider when thinking about this is the lack of trust that Washington and Maddux have towards everyone in the bullpen not named Feliz. Michael Kirkman, Darren Oliver (who finished out the ninth inning), Arthur Rhodes, and possibly Yoshinori Tateyama were available to go in place of Feliz, yet Oliver was probably the only pitcher that they would have entrusted such a ninth-inning save opportunity to, and Houston had a near-full complement of right-handed hitters coming up that probably rendered that alternative unpalatable from a tactical standpoint.
In three more weeks' time, the Rangers could have a completely overhauled bullpen with Darren O'Day, Tanner Scheppers, Scott Feldman, and Tommy Hunter occupying four of the seven relief spots, but even then there will likely be a cloud of doubt looming over the bullpen because of Feliz's constant one-step-forward, two-step-back act and the reality that there isn't a battle-tested ninth-inning man behind him to soak up save opportunities on occasions when he should be resting. I strongly suspect we'll see a trade for a late-inning power reliever in the next 35-40 days, but I'm also really and truly beginning to wonder if said reliever is going to end up being a closer, or at least somebody with closing experience (Heath Bell, Joel Hanrahan, Leo Nunez, Francisco Rodriguez, etc.), in spite of the inherent lack of efficiency and, as Adam wrote about already, the wastefulness involved in paying extra for that particular "quality."
And that, for today at least, is all I have to say about that.