Stretched bullpen's struggles evident in loss to Angels

July 31st, 2022

ANAHEIM -- When Marcus Semien and Meibrys Viloria both launched home runs in Saturday night’s Rangers-Angels matchup, giving starter Glenn Otto some cushion after he surrendered four runs, Texas seemed to be in prime position to cruise to a third straight win over the American League West rivals. 

All that stood in the way was the Rangers’ struggling bullpen. And struggle it did. 

Texas entered the eighth inning with a comfortable three-run lead, so manager Chris Woodward turned to Dennis Santana and Brett Martin to guide the bullpen to the ninth inning, where Jonathan Hernandez would have closed it out in a perfect world.  

Instead, Santana and Martin allowed the Angels to roar back as they combined to give up five runs on three hits and three walks as the Rangers fell 9-7 at Angel Stadium.

Woodward emphasized that Hernandez -- who is coming off Tommy John surgery -- wasn’t going to pitch more than one inning and Matt Moore, Matt Bush and Brock Burke were all unavailable due to usage in the first two games of the series, leaving the options limited.

“We just didn't execute at the end there,” Woodward said. “We had them kind of right where we wanted. We had some other [bullpen] guys down, but they’ve got to be able to step up. Dennis, we know, has been struggling a little bit, but I thought the stuff looked good tonight. The [12-pitch] Brandon Marsh at-bat took a lot out of him.”

After the walk to Marsh and a one-out double from David Fletcher to tie the game, Santana got the quick hook and turned it over to Martin, who didn’t fare much better.

The lefty got Kurt Suzuki to strike out swinging, but put another two runners on base after intentionally walking Shohei Ohtani and walking Taylor Ward. A two-out, two-run double from Luis Rengifo was the final nail in the coffin for Martin and the Rangers.

“I had Brett to face Ohtani, but we weren’t going to let him beat us right there,” Woodward said. “He was a good matchup for those guys. We just didn't make pitches. … Brett kind of had Rengifo wiped out there with two good curveballs down and then he just leaves one up. That’s what it comes down to.”

As July comes to a close, another late-game bullpen collapse seems to be the perfect way to end it. After a stellar June in which the bullpen finished the month with the seventh-best bullpen ERA in the Majors at 3.33, July has been a downhill slide.

This month, the bullpen ERA sits at 4.72 (for 25th in MLB) along with an opponent slash line of .263/.339/.427. In addition, the bullpen has a 1-10 record and is 5-for-10 in save opportunities this month.

The most glaring change in the bullpen production has coincidently been from Santana, who gave up three runs on two hits and a walk in the loss. The right-hander entered the month of July with a 1.53 ERA, which has since ballooned to 4.89 after he surrendered 16 earned runs this month.

Early in the month, Woodward said he felt like Santana’s struggles came mostly from overuse as the bottom half of the rotation struggled behind Martín Pérez and Jon Gray. But even after some solid starts, combined with the All-Star break, Santana still hasn’t been able to regain his footing.

“I think it just comes down to execution,” Woodward said. “And maybe, obviously, he's not as confident. The stuff looks good. When he's executing, man, he's nasty. He's tough to hit. He just hasn't been lately. I think that's the biggest key.

“Same with Brett. They're both kind of in the same boat. I think that's the story. We're having trouble putting some hitters away and that’s what it comes down to late in the game. You make a mistake, you're going to get hurt by it. That's what obviously happened.”