Rangers need more from starting rotation

ARLINGTON, Texas -- It's not fair to pin the past two weeks of haphazard Texas Rangers baseball on just the starting rotation.

After all, the batters can't seem to hit with any kind of consistency and the defense hasn't exactly been sporting shiny gold gloves of late. Every facet of the team can take some blame.

But nothing controls momentum more than the pitcher with the ball in his hands. And when he can't do much with it, the ripple effect can threaten to drown a team.

Colby Lewis was just the latest in a string of hurlers struggling to give the Rangers a chance to win by pitching deep into tight games. Lewis lasted only 3 2/3 innings Wednesday. He gave more hits (12) than he got outs (11) and left with the Rangers down 7-0. They ended up losing 9-2, the club's third straight loss and nine of its past 12. Falling behind in the counts and the fact that the Rockies' offense might be the hottest in the league right now didn't help.

When you've got an offense that can't seem to find any kind of momentum, glancing up at the scoreboard and seeing 7-0 had to feel like being down a couple of touchdowns with a minute left. It's a feeling they've had too often the past few weeks.

Only one Rangers starter in the past nine games has pitched more than six innings. The starters in the past nine games -- a 2-7 mark as a team for Texas -- have given up 44 earned runs in 41 2/3 innings. Yep, that's an ERA of 9.50. Those same starters have given up 80 hits -- nearly two per inning -- in that span. They've given up at least 12 hits in consecutive games for the second time in club history (the only other time was 1980).

"We just haven't been able to make pitches," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "That's what it comes down to -- executing pitches. I don't know the last time we turned a double play. You've got to execute some pitches and get some balls down in the zone and make some good things happen, and once they do that I think everything else will fall into place."

The inability to eat innings has consequences, of course. It has taxed the bullpen to the point that the Rangers had to make a roster move for another long reliever before Wednesday’s game and then force him into quick duty. Scott Baker arrived from Triple-A Round Rock and found himself in the game before the fourth inning was over.

Baker was the Rangers' MVP of the game, too, holding the Rockies to two runs over the final 5 1/3 innings to save the bullpen. But when your long reliever called up in a pinch is the MVP, that's not a great sign.

"I got beat," Lewis said. "That's all there is to it. I didn't go out there and walk a bunch of guys. I felt like if I threw a pitch in the zone, it was hit. It was one of those days."

The bullpen was altered even before the season to deal with injuries in the starting rotation as Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross moved over to cover the depth issue. But the injuries didn't stop. Scheppers is on the DL after struggling in his new role as a starter. Ross' rotation spot seems on shaky ground, though he's still scheduled to start Sunday against the Boston Red Sox. Joe Saunders didn't pitch well in spring and then took a line drive off the foot in his first start and is rehabbing. Matt Harrison and Lewis are still getting back into the flow of pitching every five days in the rotation.

It seems as if the Band-Aid that held things together early in the season is tearing a bit now. Even ace Yu Darvish hasn't avoided the short-start syndrome, posting the fewest innings of his career in a start -- 3 1/3 in a loss to Oakland -- during this stretch.

So what does this rotation need to get things going again?

"I think Colorado just needs to leave town," said Lewis, chuckling. "We've got one more [Thursday]. We have to go out there and play hard and keep our heads up. It's so early. It's May. It's not like we're real worried about it being in August. We have to keep our heads up and play hard."

They'll try to do that in one last game against Colorado (Harrison, it's your turn) and then three against the Red Sox. The bats, which haven't added much support at all, need to help. So do the gloves. But it must start with pitching.