Rangers right-hander Jordan Lyles loves to get opposing hitters to chase his curveball for swing-and-miss strikes. That’s what made him so effective last season and why the Rangers were so eager to add him to their rotation.
The Giants refused to fall into that trap against Lyles on Saturday night. Their ability to lay off his curveball proved to be an effective game plan that frustrated Lyles and led to a miserable pitching night overall for the Rangers in a 7-3 loss to the Giants at Oracle Park.
“I just wasn't able to place a curveball in there for a strike, so I think maybe they discounted that going forward,” Lyles said. “They weren't swinging at any of my curveballs in the dirt for a swing and miss. That's what I'm good at and I wasn't able to get them to swing at curveballs in the dirt.”
The Rangers' night started well as Todd Frazier delivered a two-run single in the top of the first. It also ended with Scott Heineman hitting his first home run of the season in the ninth with his brother Tyler behind the plate for the Giants.
The rest of the game was a struggle for the Rangers, both on the mound and at the plate.
Six Rangers pitchers combined for 11 walks and one hit batter, and six of them ended up scoring. Five of the Giants' innings on offense began with either a walk or a hit batter. The Rangers allowed two runs by issuing bases-loaded walks.
“We didn’t play real good today,” manager Chris Woodward said. ”It wasn’t our best game. It’s frustrating when you have 11 walks and one hit by pitch. Obviously we are going to have to push that one aside and move on because we are not going to win many games when you walk that many guys.”
The Rangers had just five hits after the first inning and are now hitting .186 with a .283 on-base percentage and .326 slugging percentage after seven games. They have scored 18 runs total this season.
“I don’t think anything is going our way right now,” Woodward said. “Early on we weren’t playing good defense. We were pitching pretty well. Our offense hasn’t been consistent, that’s the biggest thing. The grinding of at-bats, sometimes it seems too easy at times. We have to get tough. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy; right now we are making it a lot harder on ourselves.”
Lyles was making his first start for the Rangers and allowed just three hits but walked five. He threw 78 pitches and 42 for strikes, but only eight of the 21 curves thrown found the zone. That 38 percent rate was down from his 60 percent rate with the curve last season.
Lyles did not get a swinging strike on any of his 21 curves. He had a 29 percent whiff rate on his curve last season. Two of the 12 outs recorded by Lyles came off the curve.
“Honestly I just wish I would have realized it earlier that they were expecting my curveball not to be in the zone,” Lyles said. “They waited for my curveball to be in the zone for them to actually start respecting my curveball that [was] below the zone, my swing-and-miss. They took all those; they did a really good job. I threw a bunch of 'em, I thought a bunch of good ones under the zone. I couldn't get any of them to bite.”
Lyles walked four in the first three innings and they all ended up scoring. Evan Longoria made him pay with a two-run double in the first and Donovan Solano had a two-run single in the third to give the Giants a 4-2 lead.
“That outing, it stinks,” Lyles said. “Walking so many guys, just putting free passes on everyone. Just giving way too much respect and not being in zone a little bit better. That's tough. It's tough on me, it's tough on the guys behind me, fans watching the game. I mean, it's slow. That's not what I'm about; I like to get it and go. Next outing. I'll be in zone more.”