I won't say the result was totally unexpected.
Rays 8, Rangers 1 wasn't exactly the result we'd all hoped for, but with veteran journeyman Joe Saunders taking his turn as a likely fill-in in the starting rotation, it was feared going in that the Rangers could be fighting an uphill battle all night. We just had no idea how bad that could actually mean things would be.
As I noted earlier today, I felt the Rangers might need to score five or more runs in support of Saunders, and facing Jake Odorizzi, it appeared there was a good chance that could happen. I also mentioned another note about Saunders, and how I felt his results could be more favorable for Texas than last season in Seattle:
His xFIP of 4.23 figures to translate to better results with a better defense behind him than what he had in Seattle, but at best, he's only marginally better than replacement level, however durable he might be.
What proceeded to happen -- because of course it did -- was that the Rangers' defense totally fell apart, along with the baserunning.
Adrian Beltre ended up being charged with two errors on the night, and if you're counting at home, that gives him three on the season only four games in. Elvis Andrus also got in on the action with an error, his 2nd on the young season. Prince Fielder dropped a routin pop-up in shallow foul territory as he appeared to try transferring the ball to throw before he actually completed the catch.
All in all, it was a bad night for the defense. Leonys Maritn, although not charged with an error, contributed to giving Evan Longoria an extra base trying to get an out at home plate. Prince Fielder could have easily been assigned the blame for Beltre's 2nd error.
While the season is still incredibly young, and the sample sizes are still small, it's at least a tiny bit concerning that the left side of the infield -- which is supposed to be a defensive strength of this team -- is struggling to make some of the routine plays right now. It's not panic time by any means, but it's worth keeping an eye on to see if Beltre and Andrus get things corrected. If I were a betting man, my money would say they do, but stranger things have happened.
Perhaps the most concerning development on the night was the Rangers making their 3rd out on the bases of the season, as Prince Fielder found himself caught in a rundown between thrid base and home plate after -- depending on who you ask -- he either had a brain fart, or Gary Pettis changed his mind after initially sending the big guy home.
One of the biggest woes that faced the Rangers in 2013 was giving away outs on the bases, and the prevailing thought seemed to be that with the biggest culprit, Ian Kinsler, being in Detroit, the Rangers would immediately improve in that area. Dave Anderson was replaced as the first base coach by Bengie Molina, and when Jackie Moore was also shown the door, I was a bit curious as to why Gary Pettis was kept while his colleagues were let go.
I'm not saying Pettis was 100% to blame tonight. At the very least, Prince needed to make a decision as runners piled up behind him. By all accounts, he should have scored easily. At the same time, Pettis has a responsibility to make sure these situations go as smoothly as possible. You're going to lose some by sending guys home, but it's much worse to have a guy caught between the bases. You wonder how long Pettis will continue to man the spot if these types of struggles continue to be an issue.
Back to Saunders, it's hard to believe we'll see him in a Rangers uniform again. Without even considering the injured left ankle after taking a hit from Evan Longoria that just may land Saunders on the DL, he was ineffective and erratic. He walked 3 batters, and hitting Sean Rodriguez with the bases loaded ended up opening the floodgates.
Yes, Saunders needed some defensive help behind him, but after declaring that he was dealing with "dead arm" near the end of Spring Training, it's difficult to imagine that he'll be able to provide anything other than long relief in cases of the Rangers being on the wrong end of blowouts. Beyond that, with Yu Darvish, Colby Lewis, and Matt Harrison likely all being back by the end of the month, there may not be a place for Saunders come May.
That all goes without mentioning that Nick Tepesch tossed six scoreless innings for Round Rock tonight. It's one outing, but even after a rough Spring Training, it's hard to imagine Tepesch not having a higher ceiling than Saunders at this point, and at worst Tepesch could be used in spot-start situations until the rotation settles in a bit.
Whatever the case, Joe Saunders has thus far proven to be exactly what many of us thought he would be, and if other pitchers are healthy and ready to contribute, it's tough to justify keeping a roster spot open for him, even if he does end up costing $1.5 million.
The Rangers needed Saunders to step up tonight and keep things close, as tomorrow's matchup against David Price figures to make runs tough to come by while the Rangers will have Nick Martinez making his Major League debut. Saunders didn't make that happen, and the Rangers took one on the chin. These games happen, but I'm certainly ready to see a rotation that will have pitchers get deeper into games, and there is no argument to be made that Joe Saunders can make that happen.