ARLINGTON -- Heading into the 12th inning against the A’s Tuesday night, manager Chris Woodward had few bullpen options.
Dennis Santana had just thrown a perfect 11th, with two groundouts and a strikeout, while five other relievers pitched in the leadup. Lefty Kolby Allard was the only other available arm, and Oakland tapped him for five runs in one-third of an inning the night prior.
So Satana returned to the mound in the 12th, but wasn’t able to replicate the prior inning’s success. After three walks, two hits and a sacrifice fly, Woodward replaced Santana with Allard and it all fell apart.
In that 12th inning, Oakland shackled the pair for a combined eight runs as the Rangers fell, 14-7, in the second game of the three-game set at Globe Life Field.
“Santana was doing the team thing, saying ‘I’ll go back out,’ but he was pitching back-to-back and I did not want him to go back out there,” Woodward explained. “He was like, ‘No, I got this. I'll get a zero.’ He did his job in the 11th. He's trying to do the right thing for the team, and that's my fault for putting him in that spot.”
There are a number of moments to point to in the Rangers’ loss, but the most glaring, even with the 12th inning meltdown, comes back to the starting pitching.
The top of Texas’ rotation has been held down by recently-named All-Star lefty Martín Pérez and right-hander Jon Gray, but the other three spots have consistently struggled to go deep into games and limit damage.
Spencer Howard threw five innings of solid ball in the series opener against the A’s to lower his ERA to 8.04, and Dane Dunning, who is currency on the IL with right-ankle impingement, went just 2 1/3 innings in Sunday's series finale against the Twins, raising his ERA to 4.42.
Glenn Otto struggled through 4 1/3 innings on Tuesday, an outing that seemed to be going in the right direction before it ended with a two-run throwing error by the right-hander that temporarily gave Oakland a one-run lead.
“It’s stressful on those guys [in the bullpen],” said Woodward of the Rangers’ starters failing to get deep into games. “I've said it before, but these guys [have to] step up and do the job for us. I know our bullpen has been really good. We’ve got some good arms down there.
“We’ve got to get more production out of those spots in the rotation to take a little heat off of our bullpen because they're pitching their butts off down there. They’re giving it everything they can. With Santana today, he put his body on the line for the team knowing that he was pretty much out of gas. We’ve got to be better.”
So now the Rangers find themselves at a crossroads with the bottom half of the rotation.
Dunning, who was the main return in the 2020 offseason trade with the White Sox for Lance Lynn, seems to be solidified in the No. 3 spot despite some struggles. The revolving door of Howard, Otto and lefty Taylor Hearn hasn’t yet cut it at the big league level.
Hearn -- who opened the season in the rotation -- was recently sent back to Triple-A Round Rock for the first time since 2020, and A.J. Alexy has moved to the bullpen for the Express for the time being. The prospect duo of Cole Winn (No. 5-ranked) and Cole Ragans (No. 29-ranked) have yet to seize the opportunity for promotion with a 5.93 ERA and 3.29 ERA, respectively.
Woodward noted there’s obviously the opportunity to add at the upcoming Trade Deadline, but, as of now, the solution will have to come internally.
“Obviously that fifth spot is something we’ve got to figure out,” Woodward remarked. “I don't think we have the answer today. Something may happen where that solution presents itself, but as we stand right now, we're just trying to make sure we do the best for our team this upcoming Friday, and then we'll go from there. That's all we can really control right now. Future wise, I'm hoping somebody steps up. That's what I said before, there's opportunities here."