Things have gone well for the Rangers of late. One loss Friday, dropping their overall record to 14-9, doesn’t invalidate that.
There are, however, major areas of concern for Texas – and they can be found in what was the eighth-inning battery on Friday night: Neal Cotts and J.P. Arencibia.
‘One loss doesn’t matter,’ you say, ‘so why does one inning matter?’ Well, that penultimate inning Friday night was a microcosm for a bigger issue.
Now, I have publicly been an advocate for Cotts. Last season he was lights-out, posting a 1.11 ERA and allowing just a .180 opponent batting average. As a left-handed reliever, his job is to get lefties out. But in 2013, righties hit just .157 against him while lefties hit .204.
This season, however, Cotts has struggled. He faced five batters and retired zero on Friday, shouldering his third loss of the year. He also surrendered leads against Tampa Bay and Boston earlier this month.
It’s early – we aren’t even a full month into the season – but Cotts doesn’t look like the same pitcher he was a year ago.
Cotts’s struggles have put the bullpen in a precarious situation, too. Pedro Figueroa, another lefty out of the ‘pen who has received crucial innings from Ron Washington, is currently a member of the small army that occupies the Texas disabled list.
So with an unreliable Cotts, the bullpen is exposed in the middle innings, incapable of bringing a dominant left-handed relief man to the table.
Aaron Poreda is the only other healthy lefty in the bullpen. Poreda was called up from Triple-A Round Rock when Tanner Scheppers went on the disabled list April 18. His two appearances this season are his first since 2009. Poreda is capable of bringing velocity from the left side, but his inexperience warrants caution in relying on him for clutch outs in tight ballgames.
No immediate help can be expected from the other lefties on the 40-man roster, Joseph Ortiz and Joe Saunders. And with Robbie Ross throwing well as a starter, moving him back to the ‘pen doesn’t make sense for the Rangers.
Texas has plenty of talented arms, and the pitching staff will ultimately be just fine. But right now, left-handed middle relief is a huge question mark with Neal Cotts unable to consistently hold leads.
Then there’s Cotts’s battery mate Friday, J.P. Arencibia. He was acquired in the offseason to be Geovany Soto’s backup with the hope that he could provide some pop in the lineup (he hit 62 homers over his last three seasons with Toronto). But with Soto on the 60-day DL, Arencibia has clearly been the inferior option to Robinson Chirinos.
Arencibia is batting just .094 on the season after snapping a 19-at-bat hitless streak Friday night. He has thrown out 2-of-7 potential base stealers, but has committed two errors and allowed two passed balls on the young season.
While Chirinos is ranked no. 7 in the league with a 2.17 CERA (catcher’s ERA, meaning his pitchers’ combined ERA with him behind the plate), Arencibia is ranked no. 65 with a 5.92 CERA. Ranger pitchers have been charged with six wild pitches in his 94 innings behind the plate, while only two WPs have been thrown to Chirinos.
So the catcher position is not a total disaster, as Chirinos has been serviceable on offense and fantastic at managing games defensively. But unless Arencibia figures it out, there will always be a hole in the offensive and defensive lineup when he’s behind the dish.
Manager Ron Washington has been phenomenal at managing his lineup this season, given the injuries the team has suffered. The combination of Josh Wilson and Donnie Murphy has worked out as well as anyone could’ve expected at second base, Kevin Kouzmanoff was a valuable addition, and the Rangers have found a decent solution at DH for the time being, without a truly great candidate for that role.
The manager simply doesn’t get enough credit for what he does right. But his commitment to Arencibia is something that needs to change.
Wash’s mantra thus far in 2014 has been to “go with what he feels” at the catcher position. It’s time now to start feeling Chirinos as the starting catcher, and Arencibia as a backup to be used sparingly.
The 2014 season has had more than the Rangers’ share of injuries in store. But in my opinion, the biggest concerns come with the aforementioned healthy players. The Rangers ironed out pretty significant offensive kinks early in the season. If they fix these two as well, they’ll be even more dangerous.