Tuesday night’s Rangers win was a big one in multiple ways:
- Monday’s 10-2 loss to the Mariners was virtually over in the 6th inning as Kyle Seager’s grand slam put the game out of reach at 9-2. The team needed tor respond to a butt-kicking like that.
- Their win paired with the Astros’ loss once again swapped the teams’ positions in the AL West standings and put the Rangers in the coveted second place spot that would have them as a playoff team if the season ended today.
- It was a major test of second year manager Chris Woodward’s ability to communicate with players who are not playing to the standard the club expects of them.
2019 All-Star Mike Minor has not been himself through his first four starts this season. His four scoreless innings on Tuesday only guided his ERA down to a concerning 5.49, nearly two full runs higher than it was in 2019. He had a tough first start against the Colorado Rockies back in July where a couple bounces didn’t go his way and it had a great impact on his final line for the day, but he more or less got shellacked in his next two starts against the Giants and A’s.
During his first three starts, the velocity on his fastball was hovering in the high 80s and occasionally low 90s. Something wasn’t quite right. So Woodward and Minor discussed him having a pitch limit of about 75 or so for his start on Tuesday. The team was very careful with Minor in his first season in Texas back in 2018 as he was transitioning to being a starter for the first time in several years after injuries nearly ended his career while in Atlanta. Minor was never totally thrilled about the limitations back then and the pitch limit on Tuesday was no different.
“I felt better,” Minor said of his physical state during his start against the Mariners. “(I) wasn’t happy with Woody not letting me go out there for the fifth… It wasn’t heated, but he didn’t want me to go out in the fourth (inning) so I had to convince him with that… as a starter I never want to go out and throw three or four innings, no matter what the circumstances are.”
Obviously Minor is a competitor and is probably willing to push himself physically past where the team paying him is willing to go. It has to be frustrating considering he had thrown four scoreless innings and he wanted to qualify for the “win” statistically. Chris Woodward addressed this after the game with his usual smiling demeanor.
“He talked me into going back out for the fourth; I wasn’t going to (let him), but he said he felt fine. It wasn’t a health concern, not letting him go back out, it was what we had talked about before the game. He tried to beg me to go out for the fifth, but I had to be the bad guy and not let him.”
Off the mound, Woodward has had to come in each day and try to fill out a lineup card that will jump start this Rangers offense that, despite gradual improvements, still ranks towards the bottom in most major team batting categories. Tuesday’s bottom third of the batting order featured two major team pieces in Elvis Andrus and Rougned Odor. The two middle infielders are both hitting comfortably under .200 for the season and are making a combined $24.5 million (pre-prorated salaries) this season. With both under contract for multiple seasons beyond 2020, it’s in the best interest of the franchise to let them find their way back to the caliber of play they’ve shown they’re capable of throughout their careers. In the shortened 2020 season where each game or even each at-bat could affect a team’s playoff chances, however, it’s tough for a manager to have to find the balance of competing and developing.
“They’re grinding, they’re trying,” Woodward said of the pair after Tuesday night’s game where they combined to go 0-8. “It’s not like they’re not trying. They’re frustrated because they’re not producing. They just gotta keep trying to find solutions, honestly… Listen, sometimes things don’t go your way as a hitter, I’ve been there. Whether or not we change things or other people are going to play at times, I applaud (that) they’re trying. I’ve got their back on that because I know how hard it is to hit.”
Obviously Woodward wants to be as supportive as he can to these two clubhouse and culture staples, but they’re certainly testing his ability to do so. Both started the season hitting in the top half of the lineup and their struggles have forced their manager to put them in the bottom third of the order in recent games while Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s hot start has catapulted him into the top third of the order and a prospect like Anderson Tejeda has shown moments of promise in limited playing time as an infielder.
Whether or not you think that this team is actually capable of playoff contention when the calendar hits late September, they’re there right now with a 7-9 record. If the team wants to stay on the periphery of the playoff race, they can’t afford to have their starting shortstop and second baseman hitting a combined .140.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Woodward took a step towards tightening the leash of Odor as he has inserted the newly acquired Derek Dietrich into the the lineup at second base. So far this season, Chris Woodward has stuck by his word of being open and honest with players in this high-stakes shortened season where this still-building team could wander their way into a playoff spot.
For the series W! #TogetherWe pic.twitter.com/v6yz1TKhu1
— Texas Rangers (@Rangers) August 12, 2020
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