ARLINGTON -- It’s almost become like clockwork. A Rangers starter puts together a quality outing and the offense backs him up with tons of runs on the board, only to see the back end of the bullpen inevitably blow the lead late.
That’s been the script for many of the Rangers’ 17 losses this season, and they didn’t deviate Wednesday night.
After seven innings from Eovaldi, Josh Sborz recorded just one out in the eighth inning, walking the leadoff batter and allowing a single and a double back to back to tie the game at 5-5. Brock Burke then surrendered the decisive homer to Orlando Arcia in the top of the ninth.
Wednesday marked the sixth time the Rangers have held a lead entering the seventh inning, only to end up losing. They've allowed 73 total runs from the seventh inning onward, which trails only five other teams in the league.
Rangers manager Bruce Bochy admitted that coming up with a solution to the club’s bullpen woes hasn’t been easy.
“That’s evident with how it’s been going,” he said. “We’re trying to get it right down there. Sborz is throwing well and it got a little bit away from him tonight. We were mixing it up a little bit but the long ball hurt us this series, there’s no getting around it. But we’ve just got to get this thing figured out in the bullpen.
“It's not fun to be part of, I will be honest. I can tell you from their [the players'] side, too.”
For all of the bullpen’s issues, Will Smith has emerged as a quality closer for the Rangers. Though he has a 2.93 ERA, four of his six allowed runs this season came during one bad outing, as he’s secured eight saves in nine opportunities.
The issue has become who pitches the seventh and eighth innings to bridge the gap with Smith and the Rangers’ rotation.
After strong starts to the season, Jonathan Hérnandez and José Leclerc have both struggled with their control and command recently. Dane Dunning was elite out of the bullpen to start the season, but has filled Jacob deGrom’s spot in the rotation while the ace is on the injured list. No other reliever that's been with the club all year has an ERA under 3.00 at this point.
“It's gonna be up to us to get this thing in order, and for guys to step up and handle that seventh and eighth inning,” Bochy said. “Over the course of the season, you’ve got eight relievers, you need them all. You need them all to pitch well and be consistent. Johnny was doing a good job the first two or three weeks of the season, we need to get him back. We need to get José back to where he was.
“I still say, with these guys it’s a better staff than what’s happening down there.”
But while the bullpen remains in the bottom third of the leaderboard with an ERA of 4.48, the Rangers’ rotation ranks fourth best in the Majors with a 3.52 ERA.
In the loss to the Braves, Eovaldi’s career-high scoreless streak came to an end at 29 2/3 innings, but it was the fourth longest scoreless streak in franchise history behind just Kenny Rogers (39, 1995), Charlie Hough (36, 1983), Yovani Gallardo (33, 2015) and Rogers again (31, 2005).
Over his last four starts, Eovaldi has pitched 32 2/3 innings and allowed three runs, while striking out 30 and walking five.
Though he delivered a quality start, Eovaldi felt like he put the bullpen in a bad spot by walking two batters in the seventh and turning it over to the relief corps at the top of the lineup.
“I ended up walking [Marcell Ozuna] and then faced [Michael A.] Harris, so now it's at the top of the lineup as opposed to where it would be staggered a little bit, so when the bullpen does come in they’re not just facing the top of their lineup,” he explained. “But I love stepping up to the plate and like having this kind of a challenge. Being in this situation, especially against the Braves, I just feel like I've got to do a better job of staying on top of them and preventing them from getting things going. I've gotta do a good job of just keeping my foot on the throat.”