'It's frustrating': Leiter struggles to finish off batters in home debut

May 15th, 2024

ARLINGTON -- In his first start at home in a Rangers uniform, rookie and former No. 2 overall Draft pick got too aggressive for his own good a few times Tuesday night after getting ahead in the count, and that cost him dearly in a 7-4 loss to the Guardians.

Leiter, Texas' No. 6 prospect, has been lighting up Triple-A between spot starts with the Rangers. But his Major League ERA ballooned to 16.39 after his third career start as the Rangers careened into their fifth consecutive defeat, lengthening their longest losing streak this season.

On Tuesday, Leiter lasted only 1 2/3 innings, allowing six runs on three hits, three walks and two hit batsmen.

“I didn’t execute like I know I can,” Leiter said. “It’s frustrating ... there’s a lot of things I could’ve done better, and I will ... [but] there’s less opportunity for positive takeaways in an outing like this because there wasn’t a lot of good.”

Of all the moments that Leiter lamented after the game, his three misfires on 0-2 pitches bothered him the most. He hit Tyler Freeman, the game’s first hitter, with a fastball up-and-in. In a mirror image of the first at-bat, lefty Kyle Manzardo led off the second inning and fell behind 0-2 on the first two pitches until Leiter plunked him, too, also with a letter-high fastball that crept too far inside the strike zone.

“The same exact thing happened -- it’s kind of inexcusable to let that happen,” Leiter said. “When you’re ahead [in the count] like that, you have a couple pitches to put them away. Even if you’re trying to set [the next pitch] up by running it up and in for effect, you never want to hit them.”

The 0-2 count that ultimately buried Leiter came later in the second frame, after he had already fallen behind by three runs. Leiter got two quick strikes on Josh Naylor, who then golfed Leiter’s third pitch of the at-bat into the right-field seats for a three-run homer. That was Leiter’s 64th and final pitch of the evening.

“We just don’t see quite the consistency that you need to have up here,” Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s doing that down in Triple-A and there’s no reason why he can’t do it here. That’s what’s missing with him. There’s no question the stuff plays here. The secondary pitches, you’d like to see him get a little bit more consistent with that. But he’s getting close. These are teaching moments.”

Rangers’ offense shows signs of life
The Rangers entered Tuesday’s loss with a slugging percentage 64 points worse in 2024 -- at .388 -- than they did over the full 2023 season, when they led the American League at .452. Slugging percentages are down league-wide, though not by as drastic a margin.

Bochy attributes the trend to an unprecedented abundance of power arms, from starters to the back of bullpens. The skipper acknowledged that his club may need to adapt to the times, at least for a little while, if its top sluggers remain in their recent malaise.

But slugging wasn’t the problem for the Rangers on Tuesday. In fact, the second through fifth hitters in the Texas lineup -- Corey Seager, Nathaniel Lowe and Adolis García -- all homered. It was the first time Texas amassed three or more homers in a loss since September 2023.

When García launched a solo homer in the second inning Tuesday, it broke an 18-inning scoreless streak for the Texas offense. García’s dinger also ended his personal 14-game homerless streak; he slashed a paltry .164/.213/.182 during that stretch. García also roped a double down the left-field line in the eighth, logging his first multi-hit game since April 21, breaking a streak of 19 games with no hits or one hit.

Seager has hit for average much more consistently than García this season, as would be expected given their histories, but Seager, the 2023 World Series MVP, has not had the same pop in his bat as he did last season. He slugged .623 a year ago, but was only at .333 entering Tuesday, when he, too, collected a solo homer.

“Really, throughout the lineup we had better at-bats,” Bochy said. “It’s a good sign, the way they kept battling back, they got down with a pretty good deficit, but they kept going. That’s who they are. Good things will happen if we keep doing that.”