The bizarre story of Mike Napoli's 2012 season seems to have veered off in another strange direction, as the Rangers' beats on Twitter are reportingthat Napoli has been placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left quad, and that Luis Martinez has been recalled from Triple-A Round Rock. He missed time earlier in the week with left quad issues, and missed a few games last month with right quad issues following a collision with Seattle's Miguel Olivo, and now he'll spend the next 2-3 weeks on the shelf trying to get himself right physically.
With Napoli down and out for the time being, you'll see Soto getting everyday playing time behind the plate for the duration of Napoli's absence, and, with any amount of luck, he'll get a little hot at the plate and continue to build up the Rangers' confidence in him being a part of their catching solution in 2013. Martinez, meanwhile, suffices as Soto's emergency backup, and becomes the newest member of a miniscule three-man bench comprising Martinez, Mike Olt, and Craig Gentry; of course, Olt and Gentry have logged exactly one start between them since last Sunday, so that serves as a fairly strong indication of just how eager Ron Washington is to utilize his bench right now.
Napoli showed some recent signs of recapturing his career-long .850-plus OPS form when he slugged opposing pitchers to the tune of .179/.361/.714 with five home runs over his last nine games of July, but he had resumed looking about as lost at the plate as he has ever looked over the last 7-10 days (0-for-14, eight strikeouts since August 1st), and, given that, you tend to think that this DL assignment could serve a couple of purposes. Yes, his body has been subjected to a ton of punishment over the last 16-odd months and could use a break, but on top of that, you hope that this extended breather will produce an effect similar to that of last year's late-June breather, when he spent a few weeks on the DL and thereafter proceeded to tear the cover off the ball from July through October.
I'll have a few more mid-afternoon bullet points flowing in a few minutes here, but I wanted to go ahead and throw this post up for what should be abundantly obvious reasons:
● According to the legion of Rangers beat writers on Twitter, Texas has activated right-hander Mark Lowe from the 15-day disabled list, and has cleared room on the active roster by designating utility infielder Alberto Gonzalez for assignment. After Michael Young was tabbed to receive the start at shortstop in place of a hurting Elvis Andrus earlier this week in Boston, I surmised that it had something to do with Ron Washington losing whatever remaining confidence he had in Gonzalez after his costly 10th-inning error in Kansas City on Sunday, and said that if Washington didn't even trust Gonzalez enough to feel okay about him backing up Andrus, then he should have been designated for assignment long before now.
Washington, meanwhile, asserted that Gonzalez not getting the spot start at shortstop had nothing to do with the error, and had everything to do with him wanting to get extra at-bats for Geovany Soto. That, in retrospect, was a huge smokescreen, because there's really no logical reason for carrying 13 pitchers and only 12 position players, and no logical reason for cutting Gonzalez other than a complete loss of faith in him; the now-clear reality of the situation is that Gonzalez was a dead man walking all week, and now you have a new active-roster problem on your hands as a function of this roster move, as Michael Young is now your only backup middle infielder, and will apparently cover both second base and shortstop unless/until the Rangers bring in a legitimate utility infielder.
● I didn't hear this interview first-hand, but there's a forum post about it and I've received various tweets about it, and it kind of relates to that first bullet point: Ron Washington went on the air with Norm Hitzges this morning, and basically affirmed that Michael Young won't be losing any playing time because he has helped the Rangers get to where they are today and because Young is capable of turning things around in a second. There's also this (possibly paraphrased) quote from that forum post: "If Ron Washington's boat is going down, it is gonna go down with Mike Young on it." I don't see too much of a revelatory nature here, but this is just about as explicit as Washington has ever been in his on-the-record support of Young, and, on that basis alone, I think this statement is kind of notable.
Now, of course, Washington's genuine vote of confidence in Young doesn't have to preclude a loss in his playing time. Washington could change his mind and decide that he really doesn't to want to keep gambling on Young deep into the month of October, when the games begin to mean everything; that said, he probably won't. It's also vaguely conceivable that upper management could step in and say "okay, we need you to scale back Young's playing time," but that doesn't seem to be the M.O. of upper management. I said a few weeks ago that my greatest fear vis-a-vis Young was that his continued terrible performance and everyday playing time would conspire to cost the Rangers dearly in the post-season. Yeah, things could still change, but you'll have to forgive me for not liking the direction in which the prevailing winds are blowing.
● Earlier today, Rafael Palmeiro said that the Hall of Fame would lose whatever credibility it still had remaining if the BBWAA didn't induct Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, and I wrote a few hundred words offering my thoughts on past/present PED use in the game and Palmeiro's comments. I won't copy over everything I wrote over there into this post, but I do feel like public sentiment on the PED debate has shifted substantially over the last 5-6 years (to the extent that most people no longer care all that much about excluding confirmed PED users from the Hall, if they actually care at all), and I also feel like Bonds/Clemens and other guys of their first-ballot ilk are eventually going to make it into the Hall. It might take a while, but I would bet on them being inducted sooner or later.
1. What's your gut feeling on what is wrong -- if there is, in fact, anything discernibly wrong -- with Yu Darvish and Derek Holland right now? And for that matter, how confident are you in either of them getting back on the right track over these next couple of months?
2. Set the over/under in terms of percentage on the following players returning to the Rangers next season: Josh Hamilton (free agent), David Murphy (arbitration-controlled through 2013), Elvis Andrus (signed through 2014), Michael Young (free agent signed through 2013), and Mike Napoli (free agent). In other words, if your mean expectation on David Murphy is that there is a 70 percent of him being on next year's Opening Day roster, then you'll assign that 70 percent mark to Murphy, and so on and so forth.
3. I already have a poll up on the left-hand sidebar inquiring about the popular choice for the Rangers' No. 1 post-season starter, but let's take a slightly longer-form approach right now: if the post-season started tomorrow, what would your four-man Rangers starting rotation look like? Assume that everyone is available to go on full rest regardless of where you place them in your rotation order.
4. If you could change one thing about the coaching staff's decision-making of late as far as the lineup/in-game strategy is concerned, what change would you elect to make?
Here's today's later-than-usual post, with the obligatory song that you've likely never heard:
● Matt Harrison was about as bad as we've seen him all year yesterday (4.2 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 1 HR), but his teammates picked him up by pushing their run total into the double digits, and the story that came out after the game was that Harrison pitched with a stomach virus, and required intravenous fluids after the game. The lineup produced at a high level from top to bottom, with Josh Hamilton and Elvis Andrus both turning in especially huge games, and with Nelson Cruz, Geovany Soto, and Mitch Moreland all going yard.
● Ron Washington crowned David Murphy as the Rangers' full-time left fielder for the foreseeable future before yesterday afternoon's game, which, for as long as that arrangement lasts, will likely limit Craig Gentry to pinch-running/defensive sub duties:
“Murphy is going to get the bulk of [playing time] until he proves me wrong,” Washington said.”I’m going on what he is doing right now. When I went to him and told him I planned to play him against lefties, he was hitting and we were struggling. I wanted to get as much offense as possible in the lineup. I’m going to put our best guys out there and not worry about matchup stuff.”
Murphy, for the record, sports a sub-.550 OPS since the beginning of the Royals series. I don't want to come across as denigrating Murphy or his accomplishments, because that isn't my intention (he is definitely enjoying his finest major league season to date), but as far as predictive value is concerned, I'm more inclined to believe in the 550-plus career plate appearances that show he isn't a good hitter against left-handers than the 40-something plate appearances this year where he has torn them from limb to limb (thanks, of course, to an obscene .533 BABIP).
I like Murphy, and I like that he delivered with a double/sac fly off Jon Lester the other night, but I would also like to see Craig Gentry continue to get starting playing time Murphy's platoon partner. That, for the time being at least, doesn't look like it's going to happen, and now I wonder about what it's going to take for Gentry to reclaim his former role; apparently, hitting very well this year -- not to mention sporting a good career triple-slash line vs. southpaws -- and being the best defensive outfielder on the team isn't enough, so I assume the only thing that will shake up this arrangement is Murphy hitting a major slump.
● The other big announcement before yesterday afternoon's game was that Joe Nathan, from this point forward, will only be utilized in save situations, as the Rangers harbor some concerns over his workload to this point in the season, and also got a scare last week when Nathan's shoulder began barking (a cortisone injection has since cleared that up). Nathan responded yesterday by collecting a pair of strikeouts in a scoreless ninth-inning save, and with this new workload-related role restriction, I suppose this is the new status quo -- that is, Nathan appearing exclusively in the top of the ninth inning at home, or in the bottom of the ninth inning (or later) on the road.
● Yorvit Torrealba got launched into the sun yesterday, as the Rangers couldn't find a willing trade partner for the veteran catcher. For their total $6.25 million commitment over two seasons, the Rangers got roughly 600 plate appearances and 162 games of .262/.305/.382-caliber offense, and 1.1 fWAR.
● Mike Napoli (left quad soreness) is expected to return to the lineup on Friday. Mark Lowe (right intercostal strain) is expected to be activated on Friday. Koji Uehara (right lat strain) will hopefully be cleared to throw a bullpen session on Friday.
I try not to allocate too much time and attention towards pre-game minutia like this (which is why you almost never see game lineups posted here or other stuff along those lines), but in addition to everything else weird that's going on around this team right now, we have the news before tonight's 6:10 p.m. start that Craig Gentry will not start against Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester tonight. David Murphy, Josh Hamilton, and Nelson Cruz are starting in the outfield tonight behind Ryan Dempster, with Elvis Andrus returning to the lineup at shortstop after a one-game layoff, and Michael Young returning to the DH spot.
Meanwhile, we're also getting some ostensibly unrelated word from the Rangers' beats that Roy Oswalt did not quit on his team on Sunday (despite the media's frenzied rush to condemn Oswalt, and the ensuing torrent of columns that called for him to be launched into the sun), and declined to pitch a third inning because he was completely spent after having thrown 200-plus pitches in less than a week between bullpen work and live game action. Per MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan: "Oswalt made it clear he still wants to start. But he said he is willing to pitch out of the bullpen whenever the Rangers need him. He said he has not asked to be traded." If this is true, then the Oswalt story is, in effect, a non-story, and all of the angst over his situation will have mostly been for naught.
"So," you inquire, "why bring up Oswalt's situation in a post that's supposed to be about Gentry?" Because now that we're moving past the Roy Oswalt story, hopefully the matter of Ron Washington's decision-making of late -- and, in particular, the fact that he's deploying lineups that aren't giving the Rangers the best possible chance to win on a given night -- can regain some attention from the media, and some more incisive questions can (and hopefully will) be asked on that particular front.
Washington justified the use of David Murphy over Gentry against a lefty starter this past weekend because Murphy was hitting well at the moment, and because he wanted to ride the hot hand ... but Murphy has now cooled back off, with a 3-for-16 showing over his last four games, and Murphy's career track record reflects the fact that he is best utilized as a starter against right-handers who rides pine against southpaws. Gentry, meanwhile, is the Rangers' best defensive outfielder by a rather substantial margin, and boasts a .328/.400/.421 triple-slash line on the season, along with a strong track record of hitting lefties -- and yet he not only finds himself on the bench against a lefty-tossing Lester, but has also received just one start in the last nine days.
This has passed the point of bizarre. If Gentry is hurting and can't go on that basis, then that's one thing (although we've heard nothing as of yet that might validate that possibility), but if he's not hurting and he's physically capable of playing at his usual level of effort ... well, then I've got nothing.
"Remember when you actually looked forward to Yu Darvish starting a game?"
The lead-up to last night's series opener in Boston was characterized by much grousing and complaining over Ron Washington's lineup/defensive choices, but, in the end, those choices didn't materially impact the outcome of the game. Yes, we could probably engage in a lengthy hypothetical argument about whether a better lineup would have produced more runs and altered the space-time continuum in such a way that Yu Darvish would have pitched better, but that didn't happen, and the overwhelming likelihood is that the Rangers still lose that game even if they had deployed a less mind-boggling defensive alignment and a more potent collection of bats.
The Rangers likely still lose that game because Darvish, for all of the bats that he managed to miss (6.2 IP, 11 H, 6 ER, 4 BB, 9 K, 0 HR), just wasn't good enough to win it.
That, unfortunately, has become something of a running theme of late, as Darvish has now allowed six-plus runs in four of his last five starts (dating back to the All-Star break), and now finds his ERA residing north of the 4.50 line of demarcation for the first time since early April. The defense-independent statistical cocktail (10.3 K/9, 5.0 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9, 3.80 FIP, 3.90 xFIP) still portrays Darvish as a better-than-average starting pitcher this season, and as someone who figures to finish his 2012 campaign within spitting distance of the four-win marker ... but, unfortunately, the run prevention (4.57 ERA) hasn't been there, and the murmurs of discontent over Darvish's season become a little more audible.
I feel like most of us were reasonably well-grounded with our expectations on Darvish coming into the season, in that we realized that his 2012 performance curve wasn't going to be an especially flat one. We knew that Darvish's NPB-to-MLB jump would entail a lengthy and arduous adjustment process, one that might very well span most or all of the 2012 season, and we knew that he would hit rough patches and struggle to deliver quality results at times. With that said, though, we also knew that he was endowed with an ace-caliber skill set, that he would deliver his share of brilliant starts this year, and that he boasted the capability to pitch like a legitimate All-Star right away -- a capability which actualized over the first three months of the season, and culminated with him deservedly grabbing the final roster spot on the American League All-Star squad.
Since that point in time, though, Darvish has either stagnated or actually crept backwards from a developmental standpoint. His arsenal of weapons, deep and potent as it might be, has been greatly undermined by both control and command issues. He has struggled to throw not just strikes, but quality strikes -- deficiencies which plagued both his fastballs and breaking balls on Monday night. His pitch sequencing has, at various times, been perplexing, as he has occasionally exhibited the tendency to 'pitch backwards' and fall victim to an apparent over-reliance upon his secondary pitches.
The most worrisome fly in the ointment, though, has been Darvish's outward response to his struggles. I don't have the willpower or the patience to aggregate the whole collection of quotes, but if you have been diligently following the stories on Darvish produced by the Rangers beats this year, you know that Darvish has, at times, conveyed a distinct sense of not really knowing how to fix his performance and bounce back after a bad start.
By that, I mean that Darvish has already undertaken a couple of rounds of post-start mechanical tweaks this year (with mixed success, if I recall correctly), has talked about needing to adjust his mentality due to being too focused on avoiding walks ... and after saying that he needed to become "a new pitcher, a better pitcher" following last week's poor start against the Angels, he offered up more "I need to ..."-type remarks to the press assemblage last night:
"When I came over, I had to make adjustments to the major leagues, and I have been open to that," Darvish said. "But the Rangers want me for the pitcher that I was. Pitching coach Mike Maddux said you go out and give it all you got, battle and compete and stay focused. Don't get too emotional or get too upset. Instead of just trying to get hitters out, I was worried about things like throwing first-pitch strikes. I was thinking negatively. That was something that I had never done in Japan. I need to just focus, compete and just get hitters out."
What follows now are a couple of gut-driven, potentially baseless statements that you can either accept or disregard as you like: I believe the Rangers knew as well as anyone that Darvish would encounter some control/command struggles in his stateside transition, and that this would be a long, vacillating adjustment process with plentiful bumps in the road ... but I can't shake the feeling that they expected him to be better than this by now, and that they expected him to have a better grasp of self-diagnosis and performance correction than this by now. I think they expected him to be more resilient than this by now, and I imagine that Darvish sounding like he really doesn't know how to right the ship has made life all that more stressful for the coaching staff and the front office alike.
There's one other thing that I want to mention here, and that's the nature of his 2012 workload compared to his workloads of years past. Darvish, you see, posted a long string of sub-2.00 ERA seasons in NPB with correspondingly low walk and hit totals, which helped alleviate the amount of accumulated stress on his arm stemming from a high count of 'stress pitches' thrown in high-leverage situations and/or with runners on base. We can't perform a comparative tally of the number of pitches Darvish has logged in high-leverage spots this year, but what we can do is take a look at how many pitches he has been throwing in various base states and work from there:
Overall: 2,304 pitches (No. 14 out of 102 qualifying starting pitchers in 2012)
Bases empty: 1,260 pitches (No. 49 out of 102)
Men on base: 1,044 pitches (No. 3 out of 102)
Men in scoring position: 619 pitches (No. 4 out of 102)
Bases loaded: 70 pitches (No. 6 out of 102)
What does this tell us, you ask? This tells us that Darvish is under the high-stress gun just about as often as any starting pitcher in baseball -- pitching with runners constantly on base is a far more demanding task than breezing along with the bases empty and being able to let off the gas here and there. You can't let off the gas when there are runners on base who present grave and immediate scoring threats.
Case in point: Darvish's average fastball velocities this season neatly correlate with the urgency of the situation on the basepaths, as ESPN's Stats & Info database indicates:
Overall: 1165 fastballs, 92.9 mph average
Bases empty: 636 fastballs, 92.6 mph average
Men on base: 529 fastballs, 93.0 mph average
Men in scoring position: 273 fastballs, 93.1 mph average
Bases loaded: 39 pitches, 93.3 mph average
As Dave Allen noted in the above-linked ESPN article on stress pitches: "When the game is not close or there are no runners on, a pitcher's best stuff is not necessary, but when the game is close, it's time to shift to another gear. These higher-leverage pitches almost certainly take more out of a pitcher than when he is cruising." Darvish is throwing more high-stress pitches right now than he has likely ever thrown in his life, and he's doing that while simultaneously trying to fix his erratic performance of late, acclimatize to the toughest baseball league in the world, and remain fresh through the rough summer months. It's really no wonder that he's a mess right now, or that, in addition to his control/command issues last night, his stuff looked a bit flat.
I'd like to believe that Darvish will flourish into a reliable front-line starter in the next two months (after all, it wasn't all that long ago that he seemed very close to taking the next step), but I find myself becoming more and more skeptical of such an eventuality coming to pass, and that has me looking more and more towards 2013 as the potential target date for Darvish taking the next legit step forward towards acehood.
As things stand right now, Darvish is still very much capable of spinning a great start on you and posting up some fat strikeout numbers, but without any real semblance of tpconsistency in his performance, you're talking about a pitcher who's far closer to being a dice roll than a sure thing every fifth day ... and, at this point, I just don't know if it's realistic to expect anything more out of Darvish than a series of dice rolls as we embark upon the stretch run towards October.
Some thoughts and notes and oh no what on earth is happening:
● With an attention-grabbing three-game set against the Red Sox scheduled to begin in a few hours, I decided it would be worthwhile to crunch the Rangers' rest-of-season strength of schedule, and here's what I came up with:
August: 13 home games, 10 road games, .513 opp. WP, .513 opp. third-order WP
Sept./Oct.: 13 home games, 19 road games, .492 opp. WP, .496 opp. third-order WP
So, in essence, the Rangers catch a small break as the home/road distribution for the remainder of this month, but the schedule is tough, and that's especially true over the next 10 games as they tackle the Red Sox (.544 third-order winning percentage), the Tigers (.545), and the Yankees (.593). If they can survive this stretch with, say, a 5-5 record (a feat which would be even more acceptable in light of the fact that seven of these next 10 games are going to be played in Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium), and if they can make it through that stretch without yielding more than a game or two of their divisional lead, they're going to have a pretty favorable schedule for the stretch run against a collection of teams with an aggregate third-order winning percentage around just .490.
But, then again, there seems to be a line of thought -- one that I can't corroborate off hand -- that this team plays to the level of its competition, so maybe there are some people out there who don't want to see them playing weaker teams down the stretch.
● Per Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, we have a tidbit of pre-game news from the clubhouse that has driven the Twittersphere -- including myself -- completely and irretrievably apoplectic:
Elvis Andrus out of #Rangers lineup. Left yesterday with right shoulder soreness. Michael Young starting at short.— Drew Davison (@drewdavison) August 6, 2012
If Ron Washington doesn't trust Alberto Gonzalez enough to give him a spot start at shortstop on a night where Elvis Andrus is too banged up to go, then Gonzalez should have been designated for assignment long before now; as things currently stand, you have to think that Gonzalez's days on the active roster are numbered, and it may be that his costly 10th-inning error yesterday afternoon was the tipping point for Washington. That doesn't mean that starting Young at shortstop in any way resembles a good idea, though. Meanwhile, Geovany Soto gets the start at DH, and Mike Olt and Craig Gentry -- who has started one game since July 29th -- continue to ride the pine.
Incidentally, this is Young's second start at shortstop in the last four years. Cover your eyes and hope that Young gets some easy defensive chances, I guess.
● Remember when Josh Hamilton tore the cover off the ball for the first two months of the season, and he looked like the runaway favorite to secure AL MVP honors? Yeah, well, it's August 6th, and Hamilton's fWAR -- which, once again, is the abbreviation for FanGraphs' version of the wins above replacement metrics -- has actually fallen so far that he is now tied with Adrian Beltre for second on the team, with 3.3 fWAR. The Rangers' current leader? Elvis Andrus, at 3.7 fWAR. Mike Trout has actually doubled up Hamilton, as he has posted 6.7 fWAR in 34 fewer plate appearances than Hamilton this season, and if you look a little more closely at it, Hamilton is actually in quite a bit of danger of relinquishing his team-leading wRC+ (133) title to David Murphy (131 wRC+), who has come on very strong of late.
Since the end of June, Hamilton has been a -0.1 fWAR player. To reiterate, Josh Hamilton, after posting 3.5 fWAR over the first two months of the season, has been a replacement-level outfielder since the beginning of June. I keep looking at this, but I can't seem to fully process it. I also wonder where the once-booming "pay the man!" chants have disappeared to. You tend to think that Hamilton is still going to net a hefty guaranteed deal, but his MVP campaign of 2010 looks more and more like the huge aberration, and the team that does end up paying him may very well end up overpaying for the hope of elite performance from a player who seems to be settling in as a four-win player -- a four-win player who is very good, but not elite, and isn't getting any younger. Yikes.
Why is it that these posts about losing efforts tend to be more interesting to read/write than posts about winning efforts?
● It's August 6th, Derek Holland has been back from the disabled list for about a month, and -- uhm, well, things aren't exactly going according to plan, as the Royals ripped Holland for six runs (all earned) on eight hits (two homers) and two walks in six innings, and sent both Holland's ERA (5.18) and FIP (5.05) for the season ballooning north of the 5.00 threshold once again. He struggled through a 26-pitch, two-run first inning, but recovered to roll through the second and third innings on 28 total pitches (including a pair of strikeouts and three groundouts), and, at that point, you harbored some hope that he would be able to roll about 7-8 innings deep with just 2-3 runs allowed. Instead, he was dinged for at least one run in each of innings 4-6, and by the time his afternoon was through, he had incurred some pretty serious damage.
So, in addition to this being the third time in Holland's last starts where he allowed at least six earned runs, this start bears the ignominious distinction of being Holland's worst appearance in any game from a win probability standpoint (-.464 WPA) in his major league career, and stands out as his fourth consecutive start where he allowed multiple home runs. I also find myself somewhat disturbed by the faulty processes that led to yesterday's two long balls -- the first was clobbered by Jeff Francoeur (who may be the only everyday player in baseball this year worse than Michael Young) on a 93 mph heater right down the pipe, and the second came on a hanging 1-1 breaking ball to Brayan Pena that vaulted the Royals from a 5-4 deficit into a 6-5 lead.
Jason Cole and I engaged in a little back-and-forth discussion on Holland, and he mentioned that Holland really needs to have that steady 94-95 mph 'oomph' on his fastball to mask his secondary-pitch deficiencies; as it is, Holland averaged a little less than 93 mph with his heater yesterday and maxed out at just 94.4 mph, which becomes a bit more alarming when you consider that (a) he averaged 94.4 mph (or better) with regularity on his fastball late last year, (b) the Royals' Pitch f/x setup seems to run a bit hot, meaning that Kauffman Stadium may have actually been generous as far as his velocity was concerned, and (c) his command seems to dangerously ebb and flow more often from one inning (or batter) to the next this season than it did last season.
I don't think you pull the plug on Holland at this point in time and, say, swap him out for Roy Oswalt -- who's mired in his own weird situation right now -- or Martin Perez, but if the post-season started tomorrow, I don't think Holland makes the top-four cut. There's a huge window of opportunity available for him to right the ship and springboard himself right back into the middle of that conversation, and I think he deserves that opportunity on the basis of what he's done in the past (and, also, the fact that the other options aren't necessarily superior), but that all speaks to another troubling reality of Holland's current performance: he's not reliable right now. I don't feel like I can trust him to deliver right now. He's still very much capable of spinning a great start on you, but ... gugh. I just don't know. I wish he would pitch better.
● Speaking of Oswalt, I ... well, actually, I said just about everything that I have to say on Oswalt last night. Hopefully, he was telling the truth when he said he just couldn't go anymore, and he's amenable to filling that long-relief role in the bullpen, and this ends up being just one great big overblown blip on the radar. If not, then the days are numbered until he is moved out of Texas and/or launched into the sun. It's times like these that you wish you could administer a dose of sodium pentothal to a higher-ranking Rangers official and find out what everyone really thinks about Oswalt, the driving organizational forces behind that signing, and the setbacks that he has encountered of late.
I'd especially love to know what Nolan Ryan really thinks of how this entire Oswalt melodrama has played out over the last few months, and whether he now harbors any regrets about the Rangers signing him.
● Aside from Holland's WPA-murdering struggles, this was just a very strange, out-of-kilter game from an execution standpoint, with a list of follies and questionable decisions that included (but probably wasn't wasn't limited to):
(1) Elvis Andrus attempting to score from first base on a Michael Young double with nobody out in the top of the seventh inning, and summarily being cut down at home plate when he blew through Dave Anderson's stop sign at third base, which was particularly frustrating given that Andrus represented the go-ahead run in what was then a 6-6 game (and also in that we were still all excited about his two-run triple that capped a five-run rally in the fourth inning);
(2) The ninth-inning squeeze play chaos (more on that in a second);
(3) Robbie Ross being summoned into the game in relief of Roy Oswalt in the bottom of the ninth inning (nothing questionable here, aside from perhaps Oswalt's level of desire), and then very nearly losing the game right there by issuing two walks (which, for those of you keeping score at home, means he has walked two batters in two of his three appearances this month, after having done so only once during the previous four months of the season);
(4) A squandered 10th-inning opportunity to retake the lead after the Rangers' failure to do so in the ninth inning, as a first-and-second, no-out game state was followed by a David Murphy pop out, a Mike Napoli walk to load the bases, a Mitch Moreland line out, and an inning-ending Mike Olt strikeout on a 3-2 fastball;
(5) Michael Kirkman, rather than Joe Nathan, pitching in the bottom of the 10th inning with the game still knotted at 6-6, which seemed to be a continuing function of the dugout just flat-out refusing to use Nathan in a tie game on the road (hopefully the club's adherence to that idea loosens up a bit come the post-season);
(6) Kirkman issuing a lead-off walk, and then getting screwed over twice by his defense without recording an out, as Alberto Gonzalez -- who had been inserted into the game as an injury substitute for Andrus -- booted what should have been a rally-extinguishing 6-4-3 double play, and as Mike Olt -- who was making his first major league start at third base -- sailed a running, cross-body throw towards second base into right field on the very next play, which finally put the Texas fan base out of its misery. The Rangers are a good team, and the Royals aren't such a good team, but this was a textbook case of how basic mistakes in execution can level the playing field very quickly.
● And, finally, let's dive into the most contentious moment of the game, that being Ron Washington's decision to put on a squeeze play with the game still tied at 6-6 in the top of the ninth inning. Mike Olt drew a lead-off walk to open the frame, ended up making it to second base safely on a botched hit-and-run when Salvador Perez's throw scooted into center field (an accurate throw would have nailed Olt by a mile), and then advanced to third base with relative ease. The game state transitioned into a runner-on-third, no-out situation with a 2-1 hitter's count on Andrus, and then the squeeze attempt ensued, albeit with disastrous, facepalm-inducing consequences:
Two big things that I think were going through Washington's mind when he called for the squeeze: (1) the squeeze play had paid dividends in the past, as 13 of the Rangers' 15 squeeze attempts from 2010-present successfully scored the runner from third base, and (2) he had the most experienced bunter on the team at the plate, and he was up with a hitter's count that should have lent itself to Andrus getting a pitch out over the plate that he can work with. Instead, Greg Holland missed low and away with a diving slider, Andrus failed to get the bat on the ball, and Olt, who was going from third on the pitch, ran right into a trap at home plate. What an awful, terrible play to watch unfold.
To be clear, I didn't like that no-outs squeeze call from a risk/reward standpoint, because you're gambling a lot on Elvis getting a pitch that he can actually do something with, and if something goes awry, well, you're screwed (as we saw happen). Then again, the alternative isn't foolproof either -- yeah, you have Andrus at the plate with a hitter's count, but if he doesn't deliver, you're relying on Michael Young or Josh Hamilton to drive Olt home, and the fact that Washington pulled the trigger on that squeeze attempt with his 1-2-3 hitters up seemed to reflect not just Washington's lacking confidence in the top of his batting order to produce a hit, but also his lacking confidence as far as their ability just to drive a medium-deep ball into the outfield.
After the game, Andrus said that he did everything within his power to get the bat on the ball, and Washington demurred, saying that Andrus basically didn't try hard enough: "It’s a squeeze play. You go down with your legs and do whatever you have to to make contact. I know it’s a bad pitch, but you’ve got to get to the ball any way you can. ... The situation was perfect. We’ve got the go-ahead run at third and the guy who can really handle the bat at the plate. I wanted that run. It didn’t work out. We’ve been pretty successful with them; we finally didn’t get one." The animated evidence is there for you to judge for yourself, and here's a related poll on the matter. I can't understand how Washington believes Andrus should have made contact on that, but, well, that's why I started a poll. Have you ever thought about it?
I'll have a more in-depth post-game post dropping within the next hour or two in the morning covering all of the bizareness emanating from Sunday's series finale at Kansas City ... but, right now at least, it sounds as though the Roy Oswalt situation may be about to boil to a head, and I'd like to spend a few moments focusing on what seems to be deteriorating into an exigent problem.
Oswalt, of course, pitched two brilliant frames in relief of Derek Holland on Sunday afternoon (2.0 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 4 K, 0 BB), and neatly bridged the gap between the sixth and the ninth innings; however, after logging those two innings on 30 pitches, Ron Washington and company reportedly asked Oswalt to give the Rangers a third inning in relief, and Oswalt replied that he couldn't go any further, and that "he had had enough." Per MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan, the Rangers are uncertain as far as whether Oswalt will continue to pitch out of the bullpen going forward, and Sullivan cryptically remarks that "what happens next will be up to Oswalt ... or general manager Jon Daniels may have to resolve the issue."
I presume that there was an even greater sense of urgency to keep Oswalt out there on the bump than usual, given that both Alexi Ogando and Mike Adams were reportedly unavailable after having logged heavy workloads of late, and given that the game was knotted at 6-6 after eight innings, with extra innings appearing likelier than not. It's also worth noting that Oswalt had not pitched since August 2nd, when he logged two scoreless relief innings (though, for what it's worth, he also logged 5.1 high-stress innings on 96 pitches on July 30th), and that Oswalt voiced his roundabout displeasure about being utilized in a bullpen role just yesterday:
"I'm a starter," said Oswalt, who agreed to terms with the Rangers on a $4 million deal on May 21 that could reach $5 million based on incentives. "I'm not really a bullpen guy."
[... ] Does Oswalt believe the six starts were enough of a sample size to be judged?
"Well, I mean we're 4-2 in the games I started. I guess I should've been 6-0," Oswalt said. "Two bad ones and won four of them so... I don't know. We'll see how it goes."
Was he OK with the decision?
"It wasn't my decision," he said. "I'm down there to throw when they need me, I guess.... I don't know how long it's going to last."
Oswalt has looked impressive out of the bullpen in his two appearances over the last four days, and that, in turn, engendered some hope that he could be an asset for Texas in a multi-inning relief capacity, particularly since such an arrangement would theoretically allow him to pump higher-octane, higher-quality stuff into the plate in shorter bursts. It's unclear whether Oswalt truly was physically spent or not, but the beats seem to be painting this as a potentially flammable situation based on the fact that Oswalt outright declined to give the Rangers anymore innings, and you wonder what, if any, ramifications or consequences are going to stem from this incident ... or whether Oswalt is going to force the Rangers' hand and end up being traded/released in the near future.
11:30 p.m. CDT Update: Jon Daniels released this statement to the press with respect to the Oswalt kerfuffle: "Roy prefers to start. We had a call to make and did what we thought was best for the club. As we all know, things can change. Right now we're happy with how things set up but we understand his point of view." This seems tantamount to the Rangers acknowledging Oswalt's unhappiness, but holding firm on the organizational decision to utilize Oswalt as a reliever for the time being. If that doesn't fly, and the situation continues to deteriorate, then I suppose the Rangers will have to re-evaluate their available options and decide whether further action needs to be taken.
Oswalt has not been available for further comment since the conclusion of Sunday's game.
Twenty games over .500 once more, 5.5 games up on the second-running Athletics, and in sole possession of the best record in the American League. It's nice to be able to enjoy watching Rangers baseball again:
● The resuscitation of Scott Feldman's once nearly dead season seems all but complete, as the calendar has flipped to August and he has continued rolling -- this time, with 7.2 frames of two-run ball, as well as his third consecutive start where he allowed fewer than one walk/hit per inning (in this case, it was six hits and one walk against four strikeouts). It was also, in many ways, the archetypal Scott Feldman game plan in action: attack the zone, don't yield free bases, and trust the defense, which has produced dramatically improved results of late. Case in point: two months ago today, Feldman's ERA was 7.04. As of this morning, it's down to 4.52, and his fielding-independent ERA has fallen to 3.92.
There was a definite element of cruddy batted-ball luck that contributed to his downfall during that late May-early June window, but, in watching Feldman, I also get the sense that he has noticeably sharpened both the command and the quality of his stuff since that period, and when you're able to do that, you're able to exert greater control over your own fate. You also do that by avoiding free passes and minimizing potential damage, and by issuing only one walk last night, Feldman has now logged nine consecutive starts where he has allowed one or fewer walks -- a streak that matches John Burkett (06/11/97-07/25/97) for the third-longest such streak in franchise history. Roy Oswalt may reclaim a rotation spot yet this season, but the likelihood of him reclaiming it from Feldman appears to be slipping further and further down the drain.
● Feldman -- and, later on, Mike Adams and Alexi Ogando -- also made the most of just four runs of support, with two of those runs being plated during a patently bizarre third inning that, in truth, should have produced more than just two runs. After Mike Olt, Ian Kinsler, and Elvis Andrus opened up the top of the inning with a ground out/single/double sequence, Josh Hamilton flicked a 1-2 slider into short left field, and Kinsler easily trotted home from third base, while Royals left fielder Alex Gordon futilely attempted to cut down Andrus at the plate as he scampered from second to home; in the process of doing that, Gordon uncorked a throw that sailed well over the cutoff man's head.
Andrus, meanwhile, slid in safely underneath the tag, and the ball popped in and out of catcher Salvador Perez's mitt anyway, so it all presented a golden opportunity for Hamilton to advance from first to second base ... but he didn't, and the ensuing discussion at first base looked something like this, as Hamilton and first-base coach Gary Pettis jawed back and forth over what appeared to be a baserunning mistake of some sort by Hamilton that resulted in his failure to take the extra base (click the .gif for the extended, larger version of this exchange between Hamilton and Pettis):
The very next pitch was then laced back up the middle by Adrian Beltre to advance Hamilton to second base, and the pitch after that was chopped by Nelson Cruz out to shortstop Alcides Ecscobar, who booted the ball out behind second base. Hamilton made the turn at third base, but third-base coach Dave Anderson apparently did not wave him home, and Hamilton ended up staying put, with Beltre then being caught in a rundown between second and third base (as he was under the erroneous assumption that Hamilton would keep churning towards home), and Cruz being tagged out on an extremely close play as he attempted to advance from first to second base. As the FSNSW telecast cut away to commercial, their cameras captured Hamilton barking at Anderson.
During his post-game interview with Bryan Dolgin, Ron Washington indicated that Beltre was caught in a rundown as a result of him focusing on the ball/play and falsely assuming that Hamilton would break for home on the error, when, in fact, Anderson had held Hamilton up at third base. Washington reportedly also stated after the game that Anderson should have sent Hamilton home, but there are no specifics available as far as what, exactly, went awry there on Anderson's end ... and Hamilton, by virtue of attending a post-game function at Kauffman Stadium, was not available after the game to discuss any part of that series of unfortunate events on the basepaths.
Just an idle thought here, but, man, even if he had cause for it, and even if they were having a reasonable back-and-forth discussion that wasn't nearly as hostile as it looked, Hamilton getting up in Pettis's face and having it captured by every camera in the stadium just makes me cringe.
● The other two runs on the night were plated by Mike Olt, courtesy of a fourth-inning sacrifice fly and a sixth-inning single that scored Mike Napoli and Michael Young, respectively. He was also charged with an eighth-inning error when he couldn't snare a sinking cross-diamond throw from Adrian Beltre, which exposed what is probably the biggest deficiency in his defensive skill set at first base -- that is, his mastery of handling not-so-great throws (including picking low throws out of the dirt), which is going to take time and repetition to fully develop.
But, nevertheless, it was yet another encouraging performance on the whole, as Olt has not appeared overmatched at the plate in any perceptible way as of yet, and while he hasn't torn the cover off the ball in his first two major league starts, he's doing the sorts of things on the offensive side that are likely to curry favor with the coaching staff, and, hopefully, bolster his playing time.