If they handed out an A.L. manager of the year at the midseason point award, Ron Washington would have to be in the mix. He watched his team lose six straight games at home for the first time since 2005 and get outscored 24-4 by Toronto in a four-game sweep in mid-June.
It was the first full-blown crisis of the 2013 Rangers season, and Washington decided it was time to address his players. The next 11 days, which included series wins over the Oakland A’s, St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Yankees, may have saved the season.
“I thought they needed to hear from the manager,” Washington said after the Blue Jays series. “We’re not the first team to lose six in a row and we probably won’t be the last.”
Washington didn’t elaborate on his speech, but from what I’ve heard, he simply reminded his players of their pedigree. He convinced them to stop pressing so hard to make individual plays. The Rangers have responded with a remarkable stretch of baseball despite Tuesday’s 9-2 loss to the Seattle Mariners.
Washington makes some curious moves during games, but he always seems to have the pulse of his players. He is incredibly consistent and honest in his dealings with players. It was Washington who finally decided that his ace Yu Darvish needed to make some adjustments following a shaky start against the Yankees. Darvish had been relying too much on his off-speed pitches, and Washington wanted him to pitch off his fastball. That change in approach allowed Darvish to shut down the potent Cincinnati Reds lineup Sunday.
I also think Washington did something smart in Saturday’s 6-4 loss to the Reds. On the surface, bringing in reliever Kyle McClellan to pitch the 11th inning didn’t make a lick of sense. But I believe that Washington was willing to lose that game because he thought it might translate to more wins in the future. I’m not saying Washington tanked the game, but he certainly wasn’t willing to win at all cost. The winning pieces in the Rangers’ bullpen – Robbie Ross, Tanner Scheppers, Joe Nathan and Neal Cotts — had been taxed heavily, and Washington wanted some of them to rest. Scheppers actually requested the day off Saturday. And after watching him make a mess of things in the eighth inning Sunday, you can certainly see why.
Right now, Washington is being asked to win games while also integrating inexperienced players such as Jurickson Profar and Engel Beltre into the lineup. Part of the reason Profar’s getting so much playing time is because of Lance Berkman’s knees. Berkman further complicated things by falling down the steps of the plane when the Rangers arrived home from New York last week.
Washington has also done a good job remaining patient with a rotation that is currently loaded with rookies. The Grimm-Tepesch combo has probably run its course, but Washington continues to encourage them. On Tuesday, Grimm gave up back-to-back homers in the first inning before getting the hook in the fifth. He basically got shelled by one of the worst teams in the A.L.
“When you’re talking about youth, especially on the mound, you’re going to get a lot of inconsistency,” Washington told reporters. “And that’s what you get. Inconsistency. They’ve shown that they’re capable of pitching up here. They just have to get past the inconsistency. Tonight, he made some mistakes with some balls he left up. The guys in the middle of the order didn’t miss.”
But you won’t hear Washington pleading for the Rangers to make a move at the trade deadline. It’s obvious the team needs another front line starter as well as reliever. The Rangers manager has said repeatedly that he feels like the biggest need is in the bullpen.
For now, the Rangers appear to be on firm ground. But the next crisis could be lurking around the corner.
Fortunately, Washington’s proved that he knows exactly what to do in those situations.