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Monday, March 31, 2014
The upside? Pitching can't get worse

By Jean-Jacques Taylor
ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Texas Rangers starting pitcher Tanner Scheppers did the only logical thing after turning in the worst performance of his career Monday.

He maintained a sense of humor after the Rangers' 14-10 Opening Day loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Globe Life Park.

Scheppers allowed eight hits and seven earned runs in four innings. He walked three and struck out two.

Sometimes, as mama used to say, you need to laugh to keep from crying.

"It was a dream come true, something I'll never forget, and something I'd like to forget," he said with a chuckle.

Tanner Scheppers
Tanner Scheppers' first start -- on Opening Day, no less -- was a dream come true. Until it all fell apart. "Something I'll never forget," he said, "and something I'd like to forget." The bullpen was no party, either.
So what's the most important thing you'll take from this start?

"That it's over?" Scheppers said.

Scheppers, according to Elias Sports Bureau, is the second pitcher since 1945 to make his first major league start in his team's season opener. Fernando Valenzuela of the Los Angeles Dodgers did it in 1981.

Scheppers, who earned a spot in the rotation with a dazzling spring, was terrific in the first inning. He retired the side on 10 pitches -- all fastballs -- seemingly removing any questions about whether nerves would affect his first career start.

Rangers manager Ron Washington selected Scheppers to start the season once it became clear ace Yu Darvish would be on the disabled list to begin the campaign.

Washington and pitching coach Mike Maddux picked Scheppers over Martin Perez because they know Perez occasionally struggles to control his adrenaline in games. They figured it would be really flowing on Opening Day with a crowd of about 50,000 expected, so they decided to give the ball to Scheppers.

Scheppers struggled against Philadelphia because he couldn't throw strikes.

"I was just trying to be too fine with everything and hit corners, and that's really not my game," Scheppers said. "I kind of need to stick to my strengths and pound one and attack hitters."

Scheppers walked three batters in the second inning and each of them scored. Jimmy Rollins delivered the biggest blow with a grand slam to right field on -- what else? -- a 1-0 pitch as Philadelphia took a 6-0 lead.

He allowed only four homers in 76 ⅔ innings last season, but Philadelphia's hitters attacked Scheppers' fastball because he couldn't keep them off balance by throwing his changeup or curveball for strikes.

Only 51 of Scheppers' 93 pitches went for strikes. Of the 19 off-speed pitches he threw, only 11 were strikes.

A one-pitch starter has no chance -- even against the Phillies' pedestrian lineup.

"The walks killed him," Washington said. "If he was able to not put those guys on the bag, it might have been a different story. We pushed him as far as he could. It'll get better as we go along."

It certainly can't get any worse. After all, the Phillies scored the most runs on Opening Day in franchise history, beating the 12 they scored against the New York Giants in 1887, according to The Baseball Almanac.

Yes, 1887.

"We tried to settle him down in the dugout and told him to just let it go," Washington said. "It just ended up being one of those days. But there are a lot of good things ahead."

The Rangers, as they tend to do under Washington, rallied and took a 7-6 lead on Alex Rios' three-run homer in the third inning. Scheppers wasn't the only struggling starter.

Cliff Lee, who hadn't allowed as many as six earned runs since July 24, 2012 -- a span of 45 starts -- blew the big lead in a span of 10 batters.

Once the Rangers grabbed the lead, Washington hoped Scheppers would make some adjustments and figure out a way to get through five innings.

He couldn't.

Chase Utley smacked a two-out, run-scoring single to right off second baseman Josh Wilson's glove as he attempted a diving stop. That knotted the score at 7-7.

Scheppers eventually worked out of the inning without allowing another run, but he was done for the day.

Somehow, the bullpen was even worse, allowing seven runs on nine hits. Of the four relievers that Washington used, only Seth Rosin didn't allow a run.

The reality, though, is it's just one start. Scheppers, owner of a 15.75 ERA, probably won't pitch this bad any more this season.

This is only the first game of a 162-game journey in 180 days. Baseball is a game built on failure, so it's important for players not to let the bad times impact them any more than they rejoice in the good times.

Scheppers will have another opportunity five games from now to prove he's a good pitcher. If not, his sense of humor will come in handy.