The Rangers have lost two straight games, during which starters Derek Holland and Yu Darvish turned in alarming clunkers. With two-fifths of the Opening Day rotation lost to season-ending surgeries — Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz — it’s hard to imagine Texas advancing past the first round, let alone winning the World Series, unless Holland and Darvish pitch to their potential.
Neither has done that lately. Holland’s season ERA is 5.18 and rising. Darvish, perhaps showing fatigue near the end of his rookie year, is 1-2 with a 7.66 ERA since the All-Star break.
The Rangers have another nervous night ahead, as Ryan Dempster pitches Tuesday in front of the Green Monster. He will face many of the same Boston hitters who battered Darvish in the 9-2 series-opening loss. And it’s not as if Dempster’s Texas debut — 4-2/3 innings, eight earned runs last week against the Angels — engendered much confidence that he’s a good fit for hitter-friendly American League ballparks.
The Rangers have enough talent, and a sufficient lead, to win the AL West. But that is not the endgame for their 2012 season. After consecutive World Series losses, the Rangers are desperate for one more chance at the year’s final strike. Given the present state of their pitching staff, there are serious doubts as to whether that will happen.
Amid such weighty concerns, the Rangers spent some of their week dealing with the emotions of a 34-year-old middle reliever.
Oswalt is having one lousy season, near (at?) the end of an excellent career. Over the seven-year span from 2004 through 2010, Oswalt averaged roughly 216 innings, 15 wins and a 3.27 ERA per season. He won a pennant-clinching game — on the road — to give the Houston Astros their first World Series berth. He was a gamer, one of the most respected pitchers in baseball.
But now he seems intent on damaging that hard-earned reputation.
I’m not about to question Oswalt’s toughness. He’s pitched through hip pain for years, the result of a bulging disc in his back. If he told Rangers manager Ron Washington that he had to come out of Sunday’s game — an eventual loss — after two relief innings, then perhaps he had a legitimate reason. But if there is one, we haven’t heard it.
“If I had gone back out there for another inning, I’m looking at 250 or so pitches in the course of a week,” Oswalt said Tuesday, according to the Dallas Morning News. “I wanted to just try and do my role and stay healthy.”
It’s unfair to say Oswalt quit on his team. But his commitment to the Rangers has been questioned in recent days, for reasons largely under his control.
After playing footsie with teams throughout the offseason, Oswalt didn’t sign with the Rangers until May 29. Then he pitched so poorly (6.49 ERA in six starts) that Dempster was acquired to replace him in the rotation. Oswalt was offended. “It wasn’t my decision,” he told the Fort Worth Star Telegram. But apparently Oswalt exercised some autonomy Sunday, when he told Washington he was through for the day. The righty declined to take questions from the media for nearly 48 hours afterward, which made it seem as though he didn’t care what his teammates or the public thought.
That’s not the attitude the Rangers wanted from someone with a career postseason ERA of 3.73 — and, like his current employer, zero World Series titles. The idea was that Oswalt was hungry for a ring and would help the team get one in any way possible.
The Rangers have one of the most accepting and positive clubhouses in baseball. Washington puts the players at ease, leaders like Michael Young and Adrian Beltre maintain high standards of professionalism, and men of diverse backgrounds get along famously. If a player can’t flourish in such a positive environment, it might be time for him to find a new vocation. That’s why Oswalt’s lack of accountability was so stunning.
It’s been said that managing an aging star is one of baseball’s most difficult tasks. That is particularly true when the player is someone else’s aging star. Yankees fans get frustrated with Derek Jeter from time to time, but there is a limit to their discontent. (At least, there should be.) They remember the championships, the clutch hits, the jump-throws, the charitable efforts. Rangers fans have none of those memories with Oswalt; if he wants to be popular in the Metroplex, he must get hitters out. Now.
Given the recent performances of Holland and Darvish, the Rangers may need Oswalt to start a game soon, anyway. That’s how it went for Scott Feldman, who was dispatched to the bullpen and didn’t much care for the assignment — but worked his way back into the rotation and has excelled for the past month.
Oswalt doesn’t deserve to be released for what happened Sunday. Even if he did, I’m not sure the Rangers could afford to do it. In this title-or-bust season, they need every arm they can get.