Memo to Ron Washington: It's the, Um, Postseason, Just In Case You Forgot
Perhaps more than any of his players, Ron Washington needs to break out of his postseason slump.
Photos by Sam Merten
After the Texas Rangers fired Buck Showalter following the 2006 season, general manager Jon Daniels interviewed five candidates. Of course, there was Ron Washington, a longtime third base and infield coach for the American League West rival A's who wasn't interviewed for Oakland's managerial vacancy. Then-Rangers bench coach Don Wakamatsu, former Rangers director of player development Trey Hillman, then-New York Mets third base coach Manny Acta and then-Philadelphia Phillies minor league skipper John Russell rounded out the field.
The Rangers' brass had already made up its mind that it needed to hire an inexperienced manager to grow with a young club and relatively new front office, as Joe Girardi, Bruce Bochy, Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella weren't considered, even though they didn't have gigs at the time.
Wakamatsu, Hillman, Acta and Russell were hired as managers elsewhere after they weren't chosen by Daniels, with very little success. Only Acta still has a managing job, although Cleveland is his second stop after a failed two and a half year stint in Washington, with the others currently holding bench coach positions.
Although he had some rough seasons in '07 and '08, Wash helped turn Texas into a perennial contender, highlighted by last year's World Series appearance -- the first in franchise history. Even with his startling admission of using cocaine during the 2009 season and World Series wins by Girardi and Bochy, Wash was and still is unquestionably the right man for the job.
But some of his decisions this postseason have left me completely baffled.
My frustration peaked yesterday afternoon as C.J. Wilson took the mound in the bottom of the sixth inning with the game tied at 2 and Ryan Raburn, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez scheduled to hit.
Despite Wilson's postseason struggles and having surrendered home runs to Alex Avila in the third inning and Delmon Young in the fourth inning, no one was warming up in the bullpen with Wilson at 76 pitches and facing the Tigers' three best hitters.
As I suggested in yesterday's open thread, Scott Feldman would have made perfect sense to me. Feldman had pitched 8 1/3 scoreless innings in the postseason and could have pitched a couple innings if needed.
But Feldman wasn't warming up. Nobody was.
Raburn ripped a single into left, and then, as Washington repeatedly said after the game, the Tigers "caught a break" when Cabrera ripped a grounder down the third base line that hit the bag and bounced over Adrian Beltre's head for a double. Sure, Detroit was fortunate there, but, as Washington says, "That's the way baseball go."
The following triple by Victor Martinez past a diving Nelson Cruz scored Cabrera, and, suddenly, Detroit had a 4-2 lead.
That woulda been a great time to bring in a reliever to stop the bleeding, but, of course, no one was ready.
After Delmon Young crushed a fastball from Wilson to extend the lead to 6-2 with no outs, there still wasn't anyone ready to come into the game.
Wilson eventually got Texas out of the inning after 33 more pitches to put his total at 109, but not without issuing a walk to Brandon Inge -- one of baseball's least productive hitters.
It was an ugly, ugly turn of events that would have been much different had Wash not given Wilson enough rope to hang himself.
A defeated Washington then sent Koji Uehara out for the seventh inning, the equivalent of raising the white flag. And, to no one's surprise, Uehara surrendered a homer to Raburn, giving the Tigers a commanding 7-2 lead.
The Rangers would rally to score three more runs after a two-run blast by Nelson Cruz in the eighth and an RBI single by Michael Young in the ninth, but it would fall just short, as Mike Napoli grounded out with Young on second and Beltre on first to end the game.
It's hard to say what would have happened had Wash brought in someone in the sixth, and it depends on when he did it and who was brought in, but that, along with having anyone other than Uehara out there for the seventh, could have made Young's hit in the tying or winning run.
The episode was eerily similar to Wash's second biggest gaffe of the series, which was keeping Colby Lewis on the mound in the sixth inning of Game 3. Instead of yanking a moderately effective Lewis in the sixth, Wash kept him out there for 111 pitches (a number he reached just six times in the regular season). Lewis promptly gave up a dinger to Jhonny Peralta and a single to Andy Dirks. Dirks would steal second after -- you guessed it -- Uehara took the mound and surrendered a single to Austin Jackson, scoring Dirks. Again, poof! It went from a tied game to 4-2 in no time.
These maneuvers (or lack thereof) might be perfectly understandable during the regular season, but there's no margin for error in the postseason -- a concept Wash doesn't seem to comprehend.
If I had to sum up his reasoning in one word, I'd say it's stubbornness, which brings me to my second major complaint, although it's not a new one.
The lineup needs serious tweaking. And everyone can see it except Wash.
There are plenty of options and plenty of reasons why something should be done. And while Michael Young hitting cleanup has confused me ever since Wash started hitting him there a couple months ago, it's his refusal to bump up Nelson Cruz that's most puzzling.
For example, why not, at the very least, swap Beltre and Cruz in yesterday's lineup? Although Beltre looked better yesterday, he was clearly hobbled in Game 4. And, sure enough, Cruz would have likely faired better than Beltre in two key situations yesterday afternoon. With Michael Young on second base in the first inning, Beltre lined out to Inge. And with Hamilton on first and Andrus on second in the fifth, Beltre flied out to center.
After the game, no one asked about the lineup or putting Uehara out there, but someone did ask if he considered having someone ready to face Cabrera in the sixth. Nope. "C.J. was throwing the ball well," Wash responded.
Mangers are gonna make mistakes. That's just the nature of the business. In fact, Jim Leyland has made a couple shocking moves of his own, intentionally walking Beltre in Game 4 and leaving Verlander in the game for a career-high 133 pitches yesterday.
While the Rangers remain in the driver's seat in the ALCS with a 3-2 lead heading home, a couple more perplexing moves by Wash could give Detroit all it needs to pull out two more victories.
Here's hoping yesterday was a wake-up call.