After early struggles, Texas heading upward

June 19th, 2022

DETROIT -- A series split against the Tigers was not quite what the Rangers were expecting as the month of June winds down, but after starting the four-game set with a pair of decisive wins, Texas cooled off over the weekend.

Sunday's 7-3 defeat at Comerica Park was as much a wrinkle in the rotation as Saturday’s loss was, this time with Dane Dunning taking the brunt of Detroit’s offensive surge. Dunning allowed five earned runs in his 4 2/3 innings, permitting just four hits but also walking four.

The biggest blow came early, in the form of a three-run homer in the first inning after Dunning allowed a leadoff single and hit the second batter with a pitch. The outing matched a season high in runs allowed for the righty, who was fresh off his first scoreless start of the season but has battled to string together consecutive successful appearances, particularly on the road.

“I’ve got to go out there, when we score, and put up a zero; it’s crucial. I didn’t do my job,” said Dunning, who owns a 3.02 ERA at home this season vs. 6.03 on the road. “The numbers haven’t been great, and I’ve got to do something to change, to be better out there, to compete better -- especially on the road -- and just give our team a better chance of winning.”

That being said, we also saw a lot of bright spots this weekend in Detroit, so let’s take a look at three reasons the Rangers should be trending up heading into the All-Star break.

Hit ’em up
Corey Seager
struck again on Sunday, clubbing his team-leading 15th home run, on the first pitch he saw from Tigers starter Drew Hutchison. With 31 RBIs, Seager trails only Adolis García (45) on the Rangers, even more impressive considering the fact that Seager is fighting his way out of a slump that saw his average dip as low as .218 a week ago.

But Seager has homered in his last two games and three of his past five. Seager is also showing signs of a consistent heat-up, hitting .348 with three homers, four RBIs and six walks in his past seven games.

And let’s not forget all the waves The Kid has made. It seems like Ezequiel Duran, the Rangers’ No. 4 prospect per MLB Pipeline, has done nothing but hit since his June 4 MLB debut. He clubbed a go-ahead triple with two outs in the top of the ninth inning Thursday, and he’s hitting .291 with three doubles, a triple, two homers and eight RBIs in 14 games.

“He’s amazing,” starter Martín Pérez said. “He's not just like 23 years old; he's on another level.”

Packing a 1-2 punch
As we saw on Thursday and Friday, Pérez and Jon Gray are emerging as quite the leading duo, particularly since Gray returned from the injured list May 3. In Detroit, Pérez hurled seven innings of one-run ball, and Gray followed up with seven shutout innings to start the series on a high note.

Combined, the two are 6-5 with a 3.01 ERA in 24 starts this season and 128 strikeouts against 40 walks. They also provide invaluable guidance to the staff, as only veterans can.

“I think ‘dependable’ is a good word [for them], and I don’t even think we’ve seen Jon Gray tap into what he’s capable of,” manager Chris Woodward said. “… Just kind of talking to him and seeing him pitch, I think there’s another tier to his stuff.”

Getting the band back together
Much like many teams, the Rangers have battled various ailments and injuries this season. In addition to the usual dings and scrapes, a recent bout with COVID-19 knocked four players and a coach out of action. Fortunately, guys like Duran and others have stepped up both on the field and at the plate to keep the Rangers afloat.

It looks like several of the Rangers mainstays will return soon, though, with starting catcher Mitch Garver set to be reactivated Tuesday and right-hander Glenn Otto tentatively scheduled to make Sunday’s start against the Nationals. Infielder Josh H. Smith could also return before Tuesday's series opener against the Phillies.

It will present an interesting puzzle for Texas. While current backstop Jonah Heim has scuffled at the plate lately, his eight homers are still second most in the AL among catchers and the Rangers are high on his pitch-framing abilities and defensive contributions.

Asked Saturday if he thought Heim should be an All-Star, Woodward chuckled and said, “Tell me somebody that deserves it over him.”