SEATTLE -- Lance Lynn kept the Rangers in the game without his best stuff on Monday, but the club’s alarming struggles against left-handed pitching continued in a 6-2 loss to the Mariners.
The Rangers dropped to one game below .500, at 25-26, and 2 1/2 games out of the second American League Wild Card spot, where Boston and Oakland are tied. Tampa Bay holds the top AL Wild Card spot by 4 1/2 games.
Here are three observations from Monday’s loss:
1. Road woes and struggles vs. lefties continue
The Rangers dropped to 8-18 away from Arlington for a winning percentage of .308, which is the third-worst in MLB behind only the Marlins and Royals (.292 each).
They fell to 1-9 on the road against left-handed starters after Tommy Milone, who started opposite Lynn last week, tossed 5 2/3 solid frames and surrendered just two earned runs. Milone mixed his pitches well and benefited from a start time one hour earlier than usual for Seattle, as bright conditions led to obstructing shadows that played to his offspeed pitches.
The Rangers know that if they want to consider themselves contenders, they’ll need to find ways to win away from Arlington. They currently have five left-handed hitters in their everyday lineup -- Shin-Soo Choo, Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara, Rougned Odor and Ronald Guzman -- who are hitting a combined .168 (19-for-113) with a .398 slugging percentage against lefty starters. Gallo hit a fourth-inning single, and Guzman homered in the fifth as part of the group’s 2-for-10 day against Milone.
The Rangers will have faced five straight lefty starters by the time they leave Seattle.
"When I saw that we were going to face five lefties in a row, I thought it was a good thing, because we need to learn how to win games against lefties,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. “These are our main guys. They're going to have to figure out a way to beat left-handed pitching, so I thought it was a good thing.
“We just haven't been able to do what we do normally offensively against the right-handed pitching. So hopefully we can have kind of a breakout at some point in the next couple days.”
2. Lynn looking better and better
Lynn, who struck out 11 Mariners last Tuesday, fanned 10 on Monday, but the three earned runs he surrendered on seven hits and three walks proved to be enough for Seattle to snap a five-game losing streak against Texas.
This is the second time in Lynn’s career that he struck out at least 10 in consecutive starts and his first since June 2012 with the Cardinals. The last Rangers pitcher to strike out 10 in back-to-back outings was Yu Darvish in May 2014.
“Yeah, but I gave up three runs and we lost, so it doesn't matter how many I strike out,” Lynn said.
Lynn is results-based in his self evaluation, but the adjustments that Lynn has made since his shaky first month with the Rangers appear to be making a difference. Lynn has turned less to his sinker over the past two seasons and allocated those pitches to his cutter and four-seamer. The Rangers are encouraging Lynn to diversify his pitch mix, and he is.
Since pitching to a 6.51 ERA over his first five starts, Lynn has compiled a 3.38 ERA in six outings since, while tossing at least six innings in each (and seven in three). The Rangers are 4-2 in those games.
“He kept leaving things glove-side the whole night, but he fought and did what we expect,” Woodward said. “Every time he goes out there, he gives us a chance to win. He gave up three runs in six and struck out 10, but he did his job.”
3. Leclerc’s early exit
Right-hander Jose Leclerc exited with cramps in both his calves during the seventh inning, one pitch after he gave up two runs on a towering, third-deck homer to Daniel Vogelbach. Leclerc was unavailable Sunday for precautionary purposes because he was experiencing right shoulder stiffness, but Woodward said this was different. “If he wakes up sore, then there might be something in there, but if he's not, then clearly it was just cramps,” Woodward said. “Because it was kind of both sides. It was more of his right side on the field, and then when he got in here, both sides were cramping up."
This all comes at a time when Leclerc is pitching his way back into consideration for more high-leverage situations following his removal from the closer’s role. Before giving up the tape-measure shot in an eight-pitch at-bat to Vogelbach, Leclerc had given up a leadoff single to Kyle Seager, then struck out Omar Narvaez and Domingo Santana.
Entering Monday, Leclerc had given up just one hit and five walks to the 36 batters he’d faced since relinquishing his ninth-inning role at the end of April. He said postgame that he expects to be available on Tuesday.