Astros serve Ragans a learning experience

August 11th, 2022

HOUSTON -- Cole Ragans made his second career start on Thursday and showed that he still has some growing pains to endure.

Ragans -- who is pitching in Texas' rotation while Jon Gray recovers from a left oblique strain -- faced a tough task last Thursday in his MLB debut against a talented White Sox lineup. But Texas' No. 29 prospect showed promise, as he allowed one unearned run off three hits in five innings of work in what ultimately became a no-decision.

The task was not any easier in his second start, as he faced a loaded Astros lineup that has proven it can produce runs against the Rangers. Receiving run support would be difficult, as well, especially with Framber Valdez starting for Houston. It meant that Ragans had to match or improve from the performance he posted in his debut for the Rangers to have a chance to win the series finale.

Instead, the 24-year-old showed that he has some room to grow as the Rangers fell, 7-3, to the Astros at Minute Maid Park.

“I think the stuff was there,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. “The issue was command wise, as he fell behind a lot of guys. When you’re behind in the count like that, you still have to be able to execute pitches.”

Ragans’ stuff looked good in the first inning, as he took care of the top half of the Astros' lineup with relative ease and displayed what made him successful in his first outing: composure and an ability to execute the pre-game plan.

“The way he prepares for games is the best I have seen,” Woodward said before the game. “The level of preparedness that this guy does before a game is impressive. The composure, ability to execute and stay in the moment in his first start was really impressive.”

It did not carry over through the rest of the start, as command issues started to show in the second inning when Ragans fell behind in the count against four of the seven batters he faced.

It forced the right-hander into hitter's counts that left him two options: give the Astros free bases, or throw favorable pitches to a productive offense. Ragans went with the latter, and that decision proved costly, as Astros hitters began to sit on his fastball and started producing.

The lack of command and movement with his fastball was magnified in the second inning when he faced Martín Maldonado, who crushed a three-run homer off a 91-mph four-seamer through the heart of the plate. It was the same pitch that Alex Bregman had success against three innings later when he hit a two-run blast in the fifth, while the rest of the Astros continued to produce when Ragans was able to find the strike zone.

“I didn’t execute very well,” Ragans said. “I fell behind a lot, and obviously they are a really good hitting team. You fall behind, and they are ready for what’s next. You can’t just sneak a fastball by them.”

Ragans' outing highlighted some of his inexperience. It's something that has plagued him since the Rangers selected him with the 30th overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft.

Ragans was forced to miss significant time after undergoing Tommy John surgeries in 2018 and 2019, with the 2021 season representing the first time he saw action since 2017. He was able to show his potential in the Minor Leagues, posting a 3.04 ERA and logging 113 strikeouts in 94 2/3 combined innings with Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Round Rock this year.

Those numbers, paired with Gray’s IL stint, provided Ragans the opportunity to get big league exposure. So far, said exposure has shown that he has ways to go, and that he needs to use his two outings as a learning opportunity.

“I've got to learn that it’s my game,” Ragans said. “If I have a gut feeling, I need to probably lean toward my gut feeling and go from there. I need to look at the reports and need to read the batters more. I just need to read things and go from there.”