Rangers not waving white flag of surrender
Riddled with injuries, Washington mixing, matching lineups constantly
OAKLAND -- As if the multitude of injuries to the pitching staff haven't been enough of a challenge for the Texas Rangers, the prized offseason addition for the lineup, first baseman Prince Fielder, was lost for the season a month ago with a herniated disc in his lower back.
Oh, and projected starting catcher Geovany Soto was lost before the season started with torn cartilage in his right knee. Second baseman Jurickson Profar also went out in Spring Training with a torn muscle in his right shoulder. Nine days ago, first baseman Mitch Moreland went on the disabled list with a left ankle injury.
No, these aren't the best of times for a team that has used the disabled list a Major League-leading 20 times, including 14 players who are still sidelined, which has resulted in the use of 41 players in the season's first 70 games, including 23 pitchers and 11 rookies.
Known in recent years for their offense, the Rangers went into Monday night eighth in the American League in runs scored, ninth in slugging percentage and 14th in home runs.
There is, however, no white flag of surrender. With a 14-8 victory against the AL West-leading Oakland A's on Monday night, the Rangers climbed back to .500 (35-35), still in fourth place in the division, seven games back of the A's, but among seven teams separated by only 3 1/2 games in the battle for the two AL wild-card spots.
Nice job, Ron Washington, manager of a team that made back-to-back World Series appearances in 2010-11, lost out in the AL Wild-Card showdown in '12 and finished second in the division last year.
"Wash has done a great job with it," said manager manger Jon Daniels. "I think he's having fun with it, experimenting with different things, challenge guys with different roles and opportunities. … He is able to maintain that loose, confident atmosphere."
Oh, it's not easy, not even on a night when the Rangers matched their season high by scoring 14 runs, and hit four home runs, double their single-game best in the previous 69 games this season. The Rangers were, after all, up 10-1 by the time Oakland came to bat in the bottom of the fifth, but Washington still found himself calling on five different relievers to get the game's final 11 outs, and needing the offense to provide a late kick, after the A's pulled within 11-8 in the bottom of the seventh.
It is, however, doable, even if it does take a bit of creativity. While either Fielder or Adrian Beltre have hit cleanup in 69 of the 70 games, Washington has used four players in the leadoff and No. 5 slots; five players to hit third; six in the No. 2 hole; eight different players to hit sixth and seventh, nine different No. 8 hitters and a dozen players batting ninth.
"We just keep playing baseball," said Washington. "These guys know how to play the game."
These guys may know how to play the game, but they aren't very well known.
There's a first-base timeshare between the left-handed-hitting Brad Snyder, who hit his first big league home run at the age of 32 years, 20 days on Sunday in Seattle, and the right-handed-hitting Donnie Murphy, who at the age of 31 is with his seventh organization and after having played second, third, shortstop and left field in his 12 previous professional seasons made the fourth start of this season and his pro career at first base on Monday night.
What happened? Murphy hit two home runs, a two-run shot that gave the Rangers a 4-2 lead in the fourth and a solo home run that put them up 13-8 in the top of the ninth.
"There are certain players for us who play a number of positions," said Washington. "He's one of them. He's a veteran ballplayer. He's an athlete."
There is the 30-something catching duo of Robinson Chirinos, who is 30 and had only 33 games of big league experience before this season, and Chris Gimenez, 31, who had played in a combined 143 big league games spread across five seasons. Chirinos went 3-for-4 with a home run and two RBIs on Monday.
Oh, then there is second baseman Rougned Odor, a 20-year-old who was in the Opening Day lineup at Double-A, and Monday's center fielder, Daniel Robertson, 28, who opened the season at Triple-A for the third season in a row
It's not a star-studded group, but it's what the Rangers have right now, and it's what Washington is mixing-and-matching to complement the healthy remnants of the lineup: third baseman Beltre, shortstop Elvis Andrus, and outfielders Shin-Soo Choo and Leonys Martin.
"There is still talent here," Daniels said of the Rangers' battle to survive. "But there's a culture and atmosphere that has been created here, and some guys who won't let things get away."
And that's the way Washington likes it.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.