ARLINGTON, Texas -- Two decisions stand as the genesis of the bullpen problems Rangers manager Ron Washington faces today in Game 4 of the ALDS.
First came the decision by the Rangers' hierarchy, including Washington, general manager Jon Daniels and club president Nolan Ryan, to keep a pinch-runner (Esteban German) on the bench instead of an extra arm in the bullpen.
Then came Washington's decision to keep Darren Oliver on the mound for the final 2 1/3 innings with a 6-0 lead in Game 2 in Tampa. That matched Oliver's longest stint of the stint of the season and he only did that once. It was also the day after Oliver turned 40. Oliver had also worked two-thirds of an inning in Game 1.
It's a blatant second-guess now, but with a six-run lead, why not save Oliver's arm and allow rookie Alexi Ogando to get his feet wet with that lead to cushion him? Or split up the final two innings to lessen the load on an already shortened bullpen?
Washington's defense this morning, before Game 4, is that if his relievers' execution had been better in Saturday's 6-3 loss, he wouldn't have had to use every arm in his bullpen. That rationalization works for Derek Holland, who wasn't throwing strikes, but not for Ogando and Darren O'Day, who were lifted after facing a total of three batters between them.
Oliver, by his own admission, is running on fumes now after appearing in each of the series' first three games, but Washington said this is not the time of year to allow anyone any time off and that if he needs Oliver for a batter today, he'll use him.
Hindsight now says that keeping another left-hander -- Clay Rapada would have been the Rangers' choice -- might have been wiser than hanging onto German as a pinch-runner. The Rays are loading their lineup with lefties and manager Joe Maddon has, for the most part, stuck with them, even when Washington brings in a left-handed reliever.
"With (Benjie) Molina and (Matt) Treanor, those guys can't run very good," Washington explained after the game Saturday night. "If we ever get into a situation, maybe in the sixth inning when the game in on the line right there, I think we needed to have someone that can get us a bag when we need it, someone that can score (on a hit) in the gap."
That's left Washington short in the bullpen, but he conceded that he hasn't adjusted his managing style accordingly.
Maybe he should think about doing that.