ARLINGTON -- Rangers manager Chris Woodward is nothing but honest when talking about his ballclub.
He’s quick to point out how back-to-back losses in the late innings to a division rival like the Mariners can be “gut-punching,” even if they are the hottest team in baseball. But Woodward is also honest in saying that maybe these kinds of gut-punches can be a guide for the club as it continues to emerge from its rebuild.
“These build character, these build some toughness,” Woodward explained. “We’ve got to learn from them as a group. There's been a lot of good dialogue internally about how to get through those moments a little bit better. How do we execute a little bit better? How do we stay in the moment and focus on the right things that are all going to help us win eventually? Sometimes, you just have to go through some of these tough ones.”
On Friday night at Globe Life Field, the Rangers fell, 8-3, as Mariners rookie phenom Julio Rodríguez broke the game open with his first career grand slam off reliever José Leclerc in the eighth inning. It came immediately after Texas closed the gap in the seventh with a two-run homer from Leody Taveras that made it a one-run game.
“We fought, man,” Woodward said. “We got within a run. You could feel the momentum. We were just one pitch away and that whole eighth inning changes and we’re only down one. So it's heartbreaking, but, like I said many times this year, we’ve got to bounce back and come back tomorrow.”
While the Rangers used Matt Bush as an opener, two relievers in Taylor Hearn and A.J. Alexy made their returns to the big leagues as the bulk arms.
Hearn, making his first appearance since being sent down to Triple-A Round Rock in June, gave up two earned runs over four innings and struck out seven, while Alexy surrendered three runs in two innings -- all of which came after he left a bases-loaded jam for Leclerc to inherit prior to Rodríguez's grand slam.
“We’re in ballgames, which makes it harder when you lose,” Woodward said. “We’ve had a lot of gut-punches where it could have gone either way. I thought the guys went out there and pitched today, they gave everything they had, except just a couple of balls that didn't go our way.”
At this point, it feels like this is who the Rangers are as a team -- continually hovering around .500 without quite getting or staying there. They lose close games, and games that should be close get broken open in the late innings because of a taxed bullpen.
Texas always seems to be just one pitch, one hit or one clean fielding play away from a much different record than the 41-47 it currently sits at.
Woodward notes that while the Rangers don’t have as young of a team as they had last year, when they lost 102 games, it’s still a lineup that lacks big league experience outside of Marcus Semien and Corey Seager -- who hit his 22nd homer of the season ahead of his appearance in Monday's T-Mobile Home Run Derby.
It’s about building a winning mindset around the two pillars as the rest of the young squad develops.
“Obviously you want to win,” Woodward said. “I came into this year with expectations to win and I’ll maintain them until the end. But it’s about learning how to win and learning how to come through in those critical moments. Sometimes those critical moments are in the second or third inning, where you make a play and you turn a big double play and you just stop the bleeding. You’ve got to learn how to do that every day. We’ve got to learn how to be consistent.”