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Thoughts on a 12-6 Rangers win

Rangers 12, Jays 6

Texas Rangers v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Rangers 12, Jays 6

  • I guess that helps make up for blowing a 7-0 lead on Opening Day.
  • It definitely wasn’t a boring day, though it was one that looked early on like it was going to be full of self-loathing and bitter recriminations for Rangers fans. Spencer Howard, named the fifth starter after a strong spring training where the team reported seeing progress from an offseason of hard work, looked much like the pitcher who underwhelmed for the Rangers over the final two months of 2022.
  • It started with George Springer taking a 3-2 cutter that Howard left up and over the plate out of the park. The broadcast had just gotten done showing a graphic about how Springer had 11 lead off homers against the Rangers, one shy of the record for lead off homers against one team, held by Rickey Henderson, with 12 against the Indians. So the Rangers are on the wrong side of another record now.
  • Bo Bichette lined out to right field, then Vlad Guerrero Jr. hit a hard grounder that resulted in a 4-3, so while the Jays were tagging Howard early on, he looked like he would get out of the inning with just the one run.
  • But no, Teoscar Hernandez singled, and then Lourdes Gurriel Jr. singled on an 0-2 pitch. Matt Chapman, like Gurriel, got down 0-2 in the count. Unlike Gurriel, he saw a third pitch out of the zone. Then on 1-2, Howard badly missed his location, left a fastball up, and Chapman crushed it for a three run homer — his first hit of the year. Raimel Tapia then flew out to end the inning, but the damage was done, and Texas was in a 4-0 hole.
  • While it didn’t end up mattering, Eli White, making his first start of the season and playing center field, made a very bad decision on the Gurriel single, opting to throw to third despite not having a shot at Hernandez, which allowed Gurriel to go to second. It’s the kind of decision that White, who is trying to carve out a bench role in large part on the strength of his defense, has to do a better job with.
  • After a Nick Solak homer made it 4-1, Danny Jansen homered in the bottom of the second to get the run back. Jansen was a particular nemesis in this series, it felt like.
  • Vlad led off the third by crushing a cutter Howard left up in the zone and sending it way out of the park, making it 6-1, and leading me to wish Chris Woodward would immediately pull Spencer Howard from the game. Howard then struck out Hernandez, Gurriel and Chapman on a combined 11 pitches.
  • The Rangers batted for a long time in the top of the fourth, and whether because of having to sit so long or because he was not going back out regardless, Howard was replaced by Brock Burke for the bottom of the fourth. Howard’s end line was 3 IP, 6 hits, 6 runs, 0 walks, and 5 Ks on 49 pitches.
  • Howard suffered from poor command on Sunday. The issue wasn’t throwing strikes — he had 34 strikes against just 15 balls — but was, instead, a matter of throwing good strikes. I said on Twitter I wanted to go back and see how many times Jonah Heim set up one place, only for Howard’s pitch to go somewhere completely different. Howard repeatedly missed up, and the Jays punished him for it.
  • Really, it could have been worse. Out of ten balls put in play by the Jays against Howard, six left the bat at at least 100 mph. Along with 117.9 mph on his homer, Vlad had a 114.7 mph exit velocity on his ground out. George Springer had a second inning ground out that was harder hit than his homer. When Howard missed, he missed in a way that allowed the Jays to punish the ball.
  • And yet, he struck out four of the final five batters he faced, and five of the final eight. He showed the stuff that made him a top 50 prospect. And that stuff is what makes his inability to command his pitches so maddening.
  • On to the positive aspects of the pitching today...Brock Burke pitched! That’s a big deal. Burke had shoulder surgery in 2020 that cost him the entire season. Upon his return to action in 2021, he was sent to Round Rock and was terrible the first couple of months. On June 15, after seven outings, he had a 10.45 ERA. It seemed inevitable he’d be dropped from the 40 man roster once the Rangers needed a spot.
  • But Burke turned things around. He got better as the season went on. Over his final six outings he struck out 26 batters while walking just five in 24 innings, allowing 6 runs. And when spring training finally opened, a little over a month ago, he generated praise. When it came time for final cuts, Burke was still standing, was part of the Opening Day roster.
  • Chris Woodward asked Burke to protect a 7-6 lead in the bottom of the fourth. In his first major league action since 2019, Burke got Tapia to ground out, struck out Santiago Espinal, gave up a double to the hated Danny Jansen, and then caught Springer looking to end the inning. Sent back out for the fifth, Burke struck out Bo Bichette, walked Vlad on four pitches (a wise decision, if you ask me), then fanned Hernandez and Gurriel.
  • 2 IP, 0 runs, 1 walk, 1 hit, and 5 Ks for Burke. Just a tremendous outing for him.
  • Dennis Santana, John King, Josh Sborz and Joe Barlow followed with a scoreless inning apiece. All told, Texas got six scoreless from its pen today.
  • As I mentioned above, Nick Solak homered in the second inning. It seemed like a minor thing at the time, the obligatory run the Rangers would score off of Hyun-Jin Ryu in what would be a 9-1 loss or something like that. It especially felt that way after the Jays put up single runs in the bottom of the second and the bottom of the third, making it 6-1.
  • Solak, though, was making his first start of the year. After disappointing in both 2020 and 2021 — even being demoted to AAA in 2021 — Solak’s role for 2022 is as a platoon left fielder and righty bench bat. He’s one of the players the Rangers are having to make a decision on, and another bad year in 2022 would likely condemn Solak to a 4A label, to going year to year on minor league deals as veteran insurance in the PCL or International League.
  • One plate appearance, or one game, doesn’t make or break the season. But for Solak, smacking an opposite field homer in his first plate appearance of the year had to feel good.
  • And things got even better in the fourth. After Mitch Garver walked to lead off the inning and Adolis Garcia hit into a fielders choice, Andy Ibanez doubled, bringing home Garcia and bringing up Solak with the Rangers down 6-2.
  • Solak came through again, with a hard hit single that put runners on the corners for Charlie Culberson. Culberson, in the game in place of Nathaniel Lowe with a lefty on the mound, ripped a single through the left side, bringing home a run and advancing to second on the throw home. Jonah Heim, who had walked his previous time up, continued the parade of Rangers hitters tattooing Ryu, ripping a single that was kept in the infield but still got a run home.
  • That was it for Ryu, who was lifted for Julian Merryweather, brought in to face Eli White and stop the bleeding. Woodward, surprisingly (to me, anyway), sent Brad Miller up to pinch hit for White. Yeah, it was a huge moment, and gained the platoon advantage, but I didn’t expect Woodward to go to a pinch hitter in the fourth. Of course, he also had Garver DH today while Heim caught, so...
  • Brad Miller made Woody look wise, as he doubled in both runners to tie the game at six. After a Marcus Semien K, Corey Seager singled home Miller, and the Rangers were up 7-6 — a lead they wouldn’t give up, and a run total that, as it turned out, they wouldn’t even need to add to (though, of course, they did).
  • So, revisiting a theme from the previous inning, after Adolis Garcia walked and stole second, and after Andy Ibanez flew out to right, Nick Solak came up for his third plate appearance of the game. Solak drew a five pitch walk, making him three for three in getting on base for the game.
  • But that wasn’t the only theme being re-visited. Having pinch hit Brad Miller for Eli White in the fourth, Woodward pinch hit Nathaniel Lowe for Charlie Culberson with Ross Stripling on the mound in the fifth. What is this sorcery?
  • Like the Miller move, this decision paid off, with Lowe singling to make it 8-6. Jonah Heim walked once again, loading the bases, setting the stage for Miller to make it a 9-6 game with a sac fly.
  • I don’t remember how the other runs scored. I guess three more runs scored, since it ended up being a 12-6 game, but I don’t remember how it happened.
  • Oh, wait, I remember Jonah Heim hit a home run, because I tweeted that Heim burnt those ends. And then Brad Miller homered and I tweeted something about Miller and brisket. So there you go.
  • Solak ended the game with two hits and two walks. Heim had two hits and two walks as well. Corey Seager had a couple of hits.
  • And so the specter of returning home winless, having been swept in the first series of the year, is banished. Texas is 1-2 for the year, and while that’s not good, it’s also probably the most likely scenario for a three game series in Toronto.
  • As was also noted by Robbie Griffin on Twitter, the Rangers outscored the Jays for the series, so that’s a yay.
  • Spencer Howard topped out at 97.3 mph with his fastball, averaging 9.5 mph. He threw 30 fastballs and 15 cutters, against just three curves and one changeup. Brock Burke hit 95.5 mph on his four seamer, averaging 94.0 mph, and threw a pair of sinkers at 93.4 and 93.2 mph. Dennis Santana topped out at 97.8 mph. Josh Sborz touched 98.0 mph. Joe Barlow maxed out at 96.0 mph, while John King reached 93.9 mph.
  • There was a lot of loud contact by both teams today — 19 balls in play for the two teams, combined, had at least a 100.0 mph exit velocity. Nathaniel Lowe had the hardest hit ball for the Rangers, a 113.0 mph line drive off Taylor Saucedo that was snagged in deep right field. Lowe also had a 99.4 mph single. Nick Solak’s home run was 107.3 mph, while his single was 104.6 mph. Jonah Heim had a 106.7 mph single, a 100.8 mph home run, and a 99.5 mph line out. Brad Miller’s exit velocity on his home run was 104.9 mph, and he exceeded that on his double, which was 105.4 mph. Andy Ibanez reached 104.1 mph on his double, and also had fly outs of 97.9 mph and 96.1 mph. Charlie Culberson had a 102.2 mph single. Corey Seager had a 100.5 mph single. Mitch Garver had a 101.9 mph line out.
  • This was a good ‘un. Let’s soak it in, enjoy it, and get ready for tomorrow’s home opener.