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The Rangers are coming off their greatest sustained era in franchise history with four straight 90-win seasons and two World Series appearances. They were expected to be in contention for both for the fifth straight season even as a series of trades left the upper levels of their farm system bare in the event of injury.
Often things do not go as planned and the Rangers did not anticipate using a Major League-leading 53 players, 32 of whom have been pitchers. They did not anticipate using 15 rookies and having 21 players on the disabled list and losing Prince Fielder for the season in mid-May.
The daily routine of talking about injuries and not wins can be enough to frustrate any manager, especially one accustomed to winning as much as the Rangers have in the previous five seasons (457-354).
Yet Ron Washington does not show his frustration about the hand he has been dealt.
“It’s just trying to get what I have better,” Washington said. “More than anything else it gives guys that may have not had an opportunity at the Major League level an opportunity to show they belong on a Major League club. So we’re working extra every day to get them acclimated and certainly trying to get them to understand how we as the Texas Rangers like to play.
“We were in it, 2007 and 2008 trying to put things together and we got a lot of inexperience and there’s pains that come with that inexperience. And the only way you can get through those pains is working and that’s what we’re doing, we’re working. We spend a lot of hours at the ballpark.”
Those comments were made before one of the glimpses or wins took place, a 4-2 win over the Yankees. Then came a 2-1 14-inning loss defined by blunders on the bases and poor hitting in clutch situations. Then came a 2-1 loss made notable by a tarp that didn’t cooperate with the grounds crew and even more noteworthy for closer Joakim Soria finding out he had been traded during a rain delay. That was followed by the most normal game of the series, a routine 4-2 loss that capped a series that lasted nearly 15 hours.
This whole season has been haunting for Washington. The Rangers were a pedestrian 20-22 when Fielder played his last game on May 16. He was batting .247 and was hitting .300 in a stretch of 20 games and then suffered a herniated disc in his neck.
With those losses, it provides opportunity and possibly unearths an unexpected contributor. At least that’s how Washington chooses to view the situation.
“When you start losing your difference makers it’s too much but once again then you look on the positive side of it,” Washington said. “It opens up the door for somebody else to show they can play in the big league and right now the Texas Rangers are giving a lot of opportunities to a lot of players who may not have had an opportunity. So we’re not making excuses.
“We just want them to play baseball and step up and that’s where we are. It’s not that the guys don’t play hard and don’t give all they have. Sometimes the team you’re playing, you just can’t keep up with them. The Angels we played them in a four-game series and we could have won three of those games, we just couldn’t keep up with them. It’s always something that causes something not to happen where you need something to happen, whether it’s defense, offense or it’s pitching. Whether it’s the starter, the bullpen, making an error at the wrong time, giving extra opportunities on the base paths, giving extra opportunities to hitters at the plate.
Washington found out about the process in 2007 when he had a young core of Mark Teixeira, Ian Kinsler, Hank Blalock, C.J. Wilson and Nelson Cruz. That process began with one franchise-altering trade and helped the Rangers attain the good times for the best five-year stretch of their existence which also diminished the quality at the higher levels.
It would be easy to lose patience in what can be a hopeless situation. Instead Washington will try to get those he has past the point of surviving.
“To be successful it takes time and when you got a group that quite a few of them are trying to survive it’s hard,” Washington said. You just got to stay in the process and some of the abilities and things that you’re looking for, it doesn’t happen while you’re in the process, it happens in the next year when you come back and had a chance to think about all that you did and then you realize, ‘I got that’
In the 1970s, Mike Shrophire wrote the book “Seasons in Hell” about the first few bad years with Texas with a managers Whitey Herzog and Billy Martin. This is a bad team due to circumstance but certainly not a season in hell for Washington.
“Something always comes into play, something,” Washington said. “Something you got to explain. They got this thing about the game will show you and sometimes you can’t help things until you see something. You can’t help it until you see. I see it and then I can give some advice. But keep getting after it.”
After leaving New York, the Rangers will have 60 games to get after it and figure out who can do what as they try to return to contention in 2015.
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