SEATTLE -- No one envies Rangers manager Ron Washington when he walks to the mound and signals to the bullpen for a reliever.
These days, it's difficult to know who can come in and nail down the critical outs in a close game. With various players shuffling in and out -- either because of performance issues or injuries -- and the club's closer on the disabled list but due to return on Friday, Washington is trying to mix and match as best he can. It's a major challenge and it's caused some late-inning disappointment on this road trip.
On Tuesday, he gave the ball to Pedro Strop, hoping for a better outcome than Monday's blown lead late in Oakland when Arthur Rhodes allowed the tying run and Darren Oliver the winning one. Instead, the results were similar. Strop couldn't hold a one-run lead -- twice -- and the Rangers fell 4-3 in Seattle to drop to 1-4 on this West Coast road trip.
Washington had no choice but to go to the bullpen in the seventh. Alexi Ogando's blister popped up again in the fifth, and at 102 pitches through six, he didn't have much left anyway. So Strop came in and promptly got into trouble, eventually allowing the tying run to score after giving up a single, throwing a wild pitch and avoiding even bigger problems by getting Ichiro Suzuki to hit into a rare double play.
Washington had Ryan Tucker warming up, but decided to stick with Strop.
"I thought his split could do a good job against those lefties," Washington said. "That's why I left him in there."
In that eighth inning, left-handed hitter Adam Kennedy led off and three more left-handed hitters and a switch-hitter loomed in the lineup.
But Kennedy hit a good pitch -- a fastball down and away -- into left field for a soft single that got the inning started. Strop then couldn't field a bunt attempt by Miguel Olivo, the cleanup-hitting catcher, putting runners at first and second with no outs. Former Ranger Justin Smoak then hit a single to right-center to tie the score. That was the end of Strop's night.
"I feel like I couldn't stop the bleeding," Strop said. "I'm upset. That's a part of the game. It happened. I have to try to do better when I have an opportunity."
Oliver came in and gave up a single to Jack Cust to give the Mariners the lead. The lefty got out of the inning without allowing any further damage, but the Rangers ended the game with the tying run at second base in the top of the ninth.
"Ollie comes in and throws a breaking pitch away from Cust and Cust usually doesn't hit that ball, but he did today," Washington said.
The manager can only keep handing the ball to the relievers he's got and see what happens.
"We've got to play," Washington said. "We're not crying about it. Those are the guys we have down there. We've got confidence in them. We have to keep putting them out there and hope they get the job done. That's what I've got."
Feliz's return can't come soon enough for the Rangers. The club's best late-inning option is scheduled to take a mound in Frisco on Wednesday, and if all goes well would be back in the Rangers' bullpen on Friday.
Not that Feliz's return will all of a sudden solve the bullpen problems. But at least Washington would know that he's got his closer back and could better utilize his veteran relievers to get him outs in the seventh and eighth.
Between now and Friday, though, things aren't likely to get any easier.