With the Rangers already looking to turn the page to 2022, manager Chris Woodward will spend much of his time over the next six weeks talking about the youth and inexperience of his team, about the need for patience and about figuring out what he will have to work with in future seasons.
By the end of the Rangers’ 8-4 loss to the Red Sox in 11 innings at Fenway Park on Monday, Woodward already had enough teaching moments to fill a hefty three-ring binder.
“There’s a lot of dialogue that happens after a game like today,” Woodward said. “There's a lot to take out of that.”
Woodward spoke highly of the Rangers’ comeback effort that pushed the game to extras. He commended Andy Ibáñez’s game-tying ground-rule double off Matt Barnes in the ninth. He commended Dennis Santana, noting that he “put it all out on the line” before allowing the walk-off grand slam to Travis Shaw.
But in the end, the good wasn’t enough to overcome the bad. There was just too much mediocre defense and head-scratching baserunning.
“It's youth,” Woodward said. “There's some things like lack of execution, sometimes getting caught up in the moment, especially late in games like that. These are things that our guys have to learn. I think just talking through it, having the dialogue and saying, ‘Hey, what were you thinking there in the 10th inning, what were you thinking there in the eighth-inning at-bat?’”
If there is a conclusion to glean from Woodward’s postgame comments, it’s that the longest conversations will be with Yonny Hernandez. And they’ll zero in on the fifth inning -- specifically, one baserunning blunder that Woodward called “baffling.”
That would seem like an accurate word to describe a bunt that turned into a 1-2-5-7 double play.
“That's not a physical mistake,” Woodward said. “That's a complete mental lapse right there.”
With runners at first and third, Hernandez bunted the ball -- too hard, by Woodward’s estimation -- back to the mound. Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi shoved it back to the plate to nab Nick Solak, who was tagged out after a brief rundown. Rafael Devers tagged Solak and noticed Hernandez had almost made it to second -- where Jose Trevino was standing.
Devers easily tagged Hernandez before he could scamper back to first.
Score that a fielder’s choice double play. That wasn’t even the part Woodward was the most upset about, though. The manager ordered a soft bunt, to give Solak a chance to score on a safety squeeze. Hernandez's contact was too hard, eliminating that possibility.
What’s even more frustrating? This exact play happened three days earlier, in the series opener in Boston. The Rangers had runners on first and third with one out and were trailing by two. Woodward ordered a soft bunt, which would have scored Jonah Heim from third. Hernandez bunted too hard and popped it in the air.
“We literally just explained it to him,” Woodward said. “It's first and third, one out, the perfect situation to tie the game up right there and get that guy to second base.
“But he bunted it hard, and it looked like he was trying to bunt it hard again [on Monday]. And that's where I’m confused, because it's been explained to him numerous times.”
It’s that last part that had Woodward upset. He just talked to Hernandez about this, so presumably it was still fresh in Hernandez’s mind.
“Rarely do you get that opportunity in this game to go out and execute the same play a day later, two days later, and make up for it,” Woodward said. “We're going to have another dialogue about it, and a lot of dialogue about it, explain to him, try to pound it into his head -- that’s the player he has to be if he wants to stay in the big leagues.”
Until the ninth, the fifth inning gave the Rangers the best opportunity to make a statement in this game. Instead, Hernandez’s baserunning ended the threat.
“We had a chance,” Woodward said. “We had the momentum on our side of that point to kind of break that game open. That's a mental error. That can't happen at this level. It's something I would be mad about at A-ball.”