Injuries put Rangers in survival mode
Starting rotation full of questions as Feldman loses sixth consecutive start
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Before Thursday's 11-3 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels sat in the dugout and admitted that maybe the injury bug was biting the club harder these days because it stayed away completely the first six weeks.
The law of averages, if you will. Maybe. Whatever the reason, the Rangers are in full survival mode. And nowhere is it more evident than in the starting rotation.
Outside of Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison, it's a staff full of questions right now. Neftali Feliz was placed on the 60-day disabled list Thursday, which doesn't really alter his original timetable. He won't be back before July 18.
Derek Holland lost 15 pounds in 2 1/2 weeks thanks to a mysterious stomach ailment (his guess is some sort of bacteria), and because of lost strength, his shoulder got sore. He could start throwing this weekend. Alexi Ogando, moved into the rotation from the bullpen because of those injuries, strained his groin beating out a bunt hit in San Francisco. He's on the DL, too.
Yu Darvish remains healthy and has shown flashes of brilliance. He's got top-notch stuff, but his wonky command has made him inconsistent. After some extra days off and an additional bullpen session to work on his mechanics, Darvish returns to the mound Friday. The Rangers need him to put together some longer, solid starts as they figure out the rest of the rotation.
Roy Oswalt was signed as a critical insurance policy, but he is having trouble pitching deep into minor league games and isn't quite ready yet. He'll pitch again Sunday at Triple-A Round Rock with the goal of extending himself to 100 pitches and showing better stuff.
Injuries also have forced the Rangers to dig deep into their minor league system, plucking 23-year-old Justin Grimm for Saturday night's start, taking Ogando's place. Grimm will make his big league debut in front of a sellout crowd. If his news conference Thursday is any indication, he won't be intimidated. Grimm answered questions honestly, admitted he was spending the week working on his changeup, but showed confidence in the time he's put in the past two seasons to get here.
Remember when the club had too many starters?
On Thursday, it was Scott Feldman's turn, making his sixth consecutive start. It finished like the other five: a loss after not getting through the sixth inning.
Feldman is the first Rangers pitcher to lose his first six decisions since C.J. Wilson in 2005. It's the longest streak by a starter since John Dettmer in 1994, a few months after Rangers Ballpark in Arlington opened.
Feldman is slated to pitch again Tuesday in San Diego, but has he earned another start? Maybe the Rangers could flip roles with Feldman and Michael Kirkman, and see how Kirkman does as a spot starter until Oswalt is ready.
When Feldman was busy winning 17 games and putting together a memorable 2009 season, every break seemed to go his way. The club scored runs for him. His teammates played superb defense behind him. His sinker and cutter left hitters shaking their heads as he pitched deep into games. He appeared headed for a permanent rotation spot, started Opening Day in 2010 and got a hefty contract.
That seems like a lot longer than three years ago. These days, Feldman can't catch a break. His offense isn't scoring for him -- just three runs total while he's been on the mound the past six starts. The Rangers' defense seems to get in a funk when he's pitching, too. He has seven unearned runs in his six starts since joining the rotation May 14 because of Feliz's strained elbow ligament.
Feldman hasn't been able to overcome the bad breaks or rough defense, either. He's thrown some pitches in wrong spots, compounding those mistakes. That happened again Thursday. With the score 2-1, Mitch Moreland couldn't glove a chopper to first with two outs, extending the third inning and putting runners on the corners. Feldman didn't minimize the defensive miscue as he threw a sinker that stayed up in the zone, and Lyle Overbay hit a double to center to score two unearned runs, giving the Diamondbacks some breathing room.
"I have to get the next guy out, and I didn't do that today," Feldman said.
Yep. His manager agreed.
"We made some mistakes behind him, but just because we made mistakes, that doesn't mean you let the floodgates open," Ron Washington said. "You've got to stop it. They make mistakes; you pick them up. They pick you up. Tonight, we didn't get it done."
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Feldman's night ended after back-to-back doubles in the fifth -- you guessed it, the final one by the pesky Overbay -- and he ended up allowing six runs (four earned) on eight hits with six strikeouts.
Feldman believes he's on the precipice of getting things fully figured out and hopes to get another shot.
"The last couple of games, I think I threw the ball pretty well, but tonight I didn't make some pitches with two outs or two strikes, for that matter," Feldman said. "I feel like I'm very close to being good. It's frustrating to keep going out there -- we've got such a good team -- and not be winning."
While much of the pitching problems can be blamed on injuries, the offensive woes are more difficult to explain. A club that crushed opposing hurlers the first five weeks of the season is having trouble creating big innings or making comebacks with much regularity. Texas has hit the ball a bit better the past week, but even in the two series wins, the Rangers have averaged just more than four runs per game, inflated some by the nine runs scored Tuesday.
Frustration showed Thursday as Ian Kinsler was ejected for arguing a called third strike in the sixth. He didn't want to comment on it afterward.
"Tonight wasn't the best game," Kinsler said. "We didn't do anything right. It's a tough one, but we have a game tomorrow night and we'll come back and play hard."
It's worth noting this club did win the series, its goal every time a new opponent arrives. The Rangers have won two consecutive series, and despite going 14-15 after a 23-12 start, they remain three games up on the Los Angeles Angels in the American League West. They've lost just two games off their lead in the past 29 games.
"We're still playing better baseball," Moreland said. "We didn't have our best game to finish the series, but we won it. We've got to keep trying to do that."
So will the pitching staff, depleted or not. As the manager says: They don't have any other choice.