Rangers' search for answers continues

July 23rd, 2019

SEATTLE -- Manager Chris Woodward held another postgame meeting after the Rangers’ losing streak reached eight with a 7-3 loss to the Mariners on Monday night at T-Mobile Park.

This time, as opposed to Sunday in Houston, the meeting did not include players. This was just Woodward meeting with members of his staff to figure out the Rangers’ next move with their pitching staff.

The Rangers were planning to use left-handed reliever Brett Martin as an opener in front of right-hander Pedro Payano on Tuesday night. The Mariners have a left-handed-dominant lineup and Woodward wanted to use a lefty in front of the inexperienced Payano.

That was before Martin was needed for 1 2/3 innings and 20 pitches on Monday night in relief of starter Adrian Sampson.

“Today, we were trying to put ourselves in position to win the game,” Woodward said. “Brett getting through that part of the lineup was important for us trying to stay in the game. I didn’t want to worry about tomorrow’s game tonight. He said he’ll probably be OK, but we have to make sure he is OK when he comes in. He’s the ideal candidate.”

It’s highly unusual for a Major League team to not be completely sure who will be their next day’s starter, but that’s where the Rangers are this season. There have been many meetings devoted to sorting out a staff that has used 26 different pitchers with Rafael Montero -- who arrived on Monday -- waiting to be No. 27.

There were times when the Rangers appeared close to getting their staff settled, but they have now lost 14 of their last 18 games and their pitchers have a 6.89 ERA in that stretch.

“It is a puzzle I would like to solve,” Woodward said. “Listen, it is what it is. I trust every one of those guys. We are getting to see who a lot of people are. Giving them a lot of experience, a lot of tough situations. We are learning a lot about our guys. I like that. I don’t want to lose games, by any means, but we are digging deep on who these guys who are.”

The two they are digging on the hardest are Sampson and Ariel Jurado. They are both in their first full season as starters, and the results have been mixed. Both have hit rough patches lately.

The Rangers led, 2-0, going into the bottom of the second inning on Monday, but Sampson -- after setting down the side in order in the first -- gave up a three-run home run to rookie first baseman Austin Nola and the Mariners led the rest of the way.

Sampson ended up allowing six runs in 5 1/3 innings and is 1-4 with an 8.04 ERA in his last five starts and three relief appearances. Sampson was 5-3 with a 3.72 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP over his first 14 appearances, including seven starts.

This was his first start since July 5. The Rangers had moved him to the bullpen at the All-Star break because they needed only four starters for a 10-game stretch. Sampson is hoping to get back into a regular routine as a starter.

“It was tough,” Sampson said. “I wanted to be the guy who stopped the bleeding and picked up the team. That hanging curve ball brought three runs, other than that, I thought I made some good pitches. They found some holes, and it was one of those games.”

Jurado is 1-4 with a 7.29 ERA in his last six starts and one relief appearance. They are the Nos. 3 and 4 starters behind Mike Minor and Lance Lynn. If the Rangers are unsure about the fifth spot, it’s hard to do anything besides be patient with Sampson and Jurado as they go through this.

“They have started a lot of games for us,” Woodward said. “There are going to be ups and downs first time starting consistently in the big leagues. We are just hoping we are seeing some positive moves forward. The league knows a lot about them, and it makes it hard. People know how to prepare for you and you either have to execute or counter their preparation. We’ve run into a little difficulty, but there is a lot of learning that has to occur for both those guys.”