Scheppers sees progress in second start

Tanner Scheppers improved upon his Opening Day start, holding Boston to two runs over five innings. AP Photo/Charles Krupa

BOSTON – Before Texas Rangers starting pitcher Tanner Scheppers threw his first pitch Monday night, his Opening Day numbers still lingered near his name.

No wins. No losses. An unsightly 15.75 ERA, second-highest in the league among starting pitchers. A measly two strikeouts, a total lower only than that of his March 31 opponent, Cliff Lee, among Opening Day starters.

In his first major league start, Scheppers seemed to struggle mightily in the role. However, Texas general manager Jon Daniels still felt Scheppers could have a bright future in the Rangers' rotation.

“We made the decision to start him because we think he could be pretty good in that role,” Daniels said before Monday’s game. “As good as he was in the bullpen last year, we think [his upside as a starter] outweighs even that.”

Outweighs a season in which Scheppers went 6-2 with a 1.88 ERA and appeared in 76.2 innings, mostly high-leverage? Daniels didn’t back down from the comment, showing his faith in the 27-year-old who was named the Rangers' Opening Day starter just four days after it was announced that he won a spot in the rotation.

Scheppers showed glimpses of that upside Monday night as he held the World Series champion Boston Red Sox to two runs on nine hits, all singles, in five innings in the Rangers' eventual 5-1 loss. The five innings were a new career high for Scheppers.

“It was certainly better from the first time and we expect it to get better as we continue to move forward,” Texas manager Ron Washington said. “He was in battle mode from pitch one.”

It wasn’t exactly pitch one, but Scheppers did face trouble early, hitting Red Sox leadoff hitter Daniel Nava with a curveball on his fifth pitch. Unlike Opening Day, when Scheppers unraveled quickly after putting runners on base, the right-hander bore down, striking out Dustin Pedroia and getting Mike Napoli to ground into a double play to escape the inning.

In the second inning, the Red Sox broke through after Scheppers allowed back-to-back singles to Xander Bogaerts and A.J. Pierzynski with one out. After getting Jonathan Herrera to foul out, Scheppers left a fastball down the middle of the plate to Red Sox No. 9 hitter Jackie Bradley Jr. that was lined to center for a RBI single.

“He hit a mistake,” Scheppers said. “I left the ball up there, I kind of wanted to shove it a little more in on him. He capitalized on it.”

Scheppers would go on to face trouble for the remainder of his outing, allowing a hit in each inning but the first, and at least one Red Sox baserunner to reach second in four of his five innings. However, he got the outs he needed in key situations, a notable improvement from his Opening Day performance.

“What I can take away from Opening Day, he didn’t give up as many runs,” Washington said. “I thought he did a good job in a pretty good lineup with some good hitters.”

Of the 25 batters Scheppers faced, only one worked a three-ball count, a far cry from the seven out of 23 Philadelphia Phillies that Scheppers faced a week earlier who made it to three balls against him. Despite the improved performance, Scheppers was still critical of himself for his low innings total -- he was pulled after throwing 91 pitches through five.

“At the end of the day, I’ve got to get the team more innings,” Scheppers said. “I’ve got to go deeper in the ballgame. Forcing the manager’s hand in the fifth inning is not what a starting pitcher should do.”

Washington turned the ball over to a bullpen that, as Daniels admitted before the game, is much weaker without its ace set-up man from last season. Pedro Figueroa and Seth Rosin each worked a scoreless inning before Rosin ran into trouble in the bottom of the eighth. With the Rangers down 2-1, Rosin gave up a single to Pierzynski before walking Herrera and giving up another single to Bradley. During the play, first baseman Prince Fielder shoveled the ball to second baseman Donnie Murphy covering the bag, missing Murphy and allowing Pierzynski to score. The Red Sox would go on to score two more runs off Rosin before the Rangers were finally able to escape the inning.

“They moved some runners and their hitters were able to make some contact,” Washington said. “They found some holes. Some of those situations, if those balls were just a few inches in our favor, they could have reined themselves into some outs. It worked for them so you’ve got to give them credit.”

The loss dropped the Rangers to 3-4 on the season; Texas has lost three of its first four road games on the season. Although Scheppers acknowledged improvement from his first start, he said that there’s still much more for him to improve upon.

“I’ve seen progress but I’m not happy with it,” Scheppers said. “We’re talking about two starts here. We’ve got a long season, I’ve got to do a better job.”

Washington agreed.

“We’re certainly looking for much more,” he said.