ARLINGTON, Texas -– Manager Ron Washington is trying anything and everything -- conventional and unconventional -– to try to get his injury-riddled lineup to score runs in key situations.
He put on the bunt sign with the No. 6 hitter at the plate and a runner at first with no outs and his team down by one in the eighth on Wednesday. The skipper was willing to concede an out to put Alex Rios in scoring position with the bottom of the order coming up. Why?
“Trying to get back in the ballgame,” said Washington, whose Texas Rangers fell 6-5 to the Baltimore Orioles. “That’s why I did it. [Darren] O’Day is a ground-ball pitcher who’s very tough on right-handers. It wasn’t a very good matchup. So I’m trying to get a runner in scoring position and hope someone can deliver.”
They couldn’t. Donnie Murphy’s bunt attempt wasn’t hit far enough in front of the plate and catcher Caleb Joseph pounced on it and threw Rios out at second base. Leonys Martin and Robinson Chirinos both got out quickly, ending the threat without ever getting a runner into scoring position.
“It was a tough guy to bunt off of and I didn’t get the job done,” Murphy said of O'Day's submarine pitching motion. “It happens. It was bad execution.”
In the ninth inning, still down by a run, Washington pinch hit for No. 3 hitter Mitch Moreland. How many teams are pinch hitting for the No. 3 hitter?
But with the state of the Rangers’ lineup, the manager had his reasons. There was a lefty on the mound, Orioles’ closer Zach Britton, and Washington figured he’d give Michael Choice, a right-handed batter, a shot over Moreland, who has struggled to hit lefties in his career. Of course, Choice was hitting just .203 coming into the game.
Such is life when Prince Fielder, the power hitter who was supposed to come up in a game-defining moment like that, is recovering from season-ending surgery.
Choice struck out to end the game. It came after Elvis Andrus had bunted his way on to lead off the inning, only to have Shin-Soo Choo hit into a double play on the next pitch to create an audible sigh among those still remaining at Globe Life Park.
“I’ve put on a bunch of hit-and-runs, we just haven’t been able to make the contact it takes to make them successful,” Washington said. “I’m trying to put the guys that swing the bat for us in position so they can drive in runs. It just hasn’t been happening. We’ll keep grinding and we’ll put it together. That’s all you can do.”
Washington is constantly rearranging his lineup and trying to figure out who can play in certain spots and how he can help the bats generate a spark. Some things don’t change, such as Adrian Beltre hitting in the middle of the order. Beltre had two home runs and all five Rangers RBIs and it wasn’t enough on Wednesday.
But the manager has to flip and flop and jumble parts of the rest of it. All the while, he’s willing to take some chances with putting runners on the move or getting them into position where the few RBI producers he has left can try to cash them in.
“He’s got to do what he’s got to do,” Murphy said of Washington. “I’m pretty sure this is not the lineup he was originally thinking of to start the year. So he has to mix and match and put people in situations where he thinks they can succeed and help the team. Right now, every day he has to do something different and we have to do our job. We can’t worry about where we’re hitting in the lineup. We just have to get our job done. We have to start doing that and I think we will.”
It didn’t work on Wednesday. But the manager won’t stop pushing buttons and trying whatever he can to help push this offense along. Without the big bats to do it for him, he doesn’t have much choice.