Short-handed bullpen costs Rangers in loss

Short-handed bullpen costs Rangers in loss

ARLINGTON -- Rangers manager Jeff Banister is finding it tough to manage a bullpen with one arm tied behind his back. That was the situation he found himself in late Saturday night, in a crucial game with Wild Card implications.

Banister tried to navigate the final two innings with two hard-throwing rookie pitchers and it didn't work in a 7-4 loss to the Angels at Globe Life Park.

The Rangers had a 4-2 lead with two out in the ninth but right-hander Ricardo Rodriguez, trying for his second save in his ninth Major League appearance, gave up a two-run home run to C.J. Cron.

Cron's game-tying two-run homer

That sent it into extra innings and Jose Leclerc walked three straight batters to start the 10th. Austin Bibens-Dirkx, another rookie, had to take over. but Kole Calhoun's two-run single put the Angels ahead. Cron's sacrifice fly added another run.

"You feel for the team," said veteran reliever Tony Barnette, who pitched a scoreless seventh. "It's a tough spot, a couple of young kids with great stuff. It didn't work out for them tonight. We have seen the success they've had; unfortunately, we came away with the loss. We have to erase it and come back tomorrow."

The Rangers did not have Alex Claudio, their best reliever, available because he had thrown 46 pitches in the previous two games. Matt Bush and Keone Kela remain on the disabled list and won't be back for another 1-2 weeks.

"The pitchers we deployed out of the bullpen were the ones who were available to us," Banister said. "Short-handed in a sense, so you have to battle with what's out there."

Reinforcing the bullpen was a stated goal after the All-Star break, but the Rangers have purged their system of more veteran relievers -- Jeremy Jeffress, Dario Alvarez, Tanner Scheppers, Ernesto Frieri -- than they have acquired. Jhan Marinez was claimed off waivers from the Pirates, but was designated for assignment three weeks later.

Paolo Espino was bought from the Brewers and he did retire one batter to get the Rangers out of a sixth-inning jam. But for the most part, the Rangers have tried to rely on young arms from their system to prop up the bullpen.

"Still a learning moment for these young guys," Banister said. "It's the big leagues. They are here to pitch. It is challenging in those situations, [but] they are learning some valuable lessons."

The Rangers will add Nick Martinez to the bullpen once Miguel Gonzalez is ready to step into the rotation. The Rangers also have deposed starter Tyson Ross in the bullpen, but Banister sees him as a long reliever rather than a late-inning option right now.

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Rodriguez earned a save against the Angels last week in Anaheim and retired the first two batters he faced in the ninth. But Luis Valbuena doubled on a full-count pitch and Cron pulled a 1-1 fastball down the left-field line for a game-tying home run.

"It's a tough situation but still, I need to keep doing my job," Rodriguez said. "I'm supposed to throw strikes and get people out."

Leclerc was called on for the 10th. The Rangers consider Leclerc to have "electric" stuff with a fastball that averages 95.9 mph. But he entered the game averaging 7.34 walks per nine innings, the highest among American League relievers. That will only go up after walking the only three batters he faced.

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.