ARLINGTON -- The Rangers fell into an early hole in Saturday afternoon’s game against the Rays, and they couldn't climb out in a 3-0 loss at Globe Life Field.
Rangers starter Kolby Allard walked the first batter of the game, then gave up back-to-back singles to give the Rays the early 2-0 lead before a single out was recorded.
Allard quickly buckled down and retired 15 of the next 16 batters he faced, going five innings and allowing three hits and one walk. He also struck out six, getting a game-high nine swings and misses.
Allard said he felt like he was trying to feel his way through the first inning instead of coming out firing on all cylinders. That caused him to be predictable to those first three batters, using just his four-seamer and cutter.
Allard’s command was almost nonexistent during that first frame. He avoided throwing his curveball or changeup as he struggled to get a feel for those pitches. He ultimately threw a fastball right down the middle to Yandy Díaz immediately after the leadoff walk.
“I think it is just a matter of settling down a little bit,” Allard said. “Then just getting back to attacking, getting ahead in counts, and then once you’re ahead in counts, you can have a lot more success. I think it was just going back and getting ahead of hitters and then putting them away.”
Rays manager Kevin Cash said it was tough hitting against Allard after those first three batters, especially as he began to execute all his pitches.
“It ultimately all comes down to executing pitches and how consistently you can do that,” Allard said. “I think you just continue to put an emphasis on that and let the chips fall.”
Allard isn’t the only Rangers pitcher to have struggled in the first inning. Dane Dunning has notably taken time to get the feel of the game before settling in. Manager Chris Woodward said the pitching coaches emphasize throwing every inning like it's the eighth or ninth, rather than easing into games.
“A lot of times [it's] the most important inning,” Woodward said. “You're the most vulnerable obviously in the first inning. I don't know how to stress it enough to our guys to be ready to pitch from the first hitter on.”
Allard’s 79 pitches were the most he has thrown since last Sept. 7, when he threw 95 in a loss to the Mariners. He started the season coming out of the bullpen for the Rangers before slotting in the rotation with Kohei Arihara’s move to the 60-day injured list.
Allard said he doesn’t think one or two starts are enough to truly establish himself as a starter on the big league level. But it was a step in the right direction after a rough 2020 in which he posted a 7.75 ERA.
Allard spent the offseason working on refining his curveball and changeup location instead of adding a new pitch, hoping to improve his sequencing across the board. His ERA this season sits at 3.41 through two starts and 10 relief appearances.
“With this year, I’m going out there with that mindset of getting ahead, attacking guys and just mixing all four pitches in the zone for strikes,” Allard said. “I think it's just the mentality I'm going to keep taking away from every outing. But obviously, it's good to go out there and throw up as many zeros as you possibly can.”
Texas struggled to get anything going on offense to complement Allard’s start, as Tampa Bay allowed just five baserunners. The Rangers were shut out for the first time since falling 5-0 to the Mariners on May 27 in Seattle. Tampa Bay starter Rich Hill didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning, and he was able to mix his pitches well enough to keep the Rangers off balance.
Woodward said Hill made few to no mistakes for the Rangers to capitalize on.
"Rich Hill's probably been one of the better starters in baseball for the last however long,” Woodward said. “He did a really good job. He was using an outside corner a little bit to our hitters pretty effectively, especially with some of the lefties. He had some calls go his way, but at the same time he pitched really, really well."