Home not so sweet for Tejeda
Rangers right-hander allows five runs in three-plus innings
ARLINGTON -- Something about Rangers Ballpark in Arlington continues to disagree with Robinson Tejeda.
Another lacking home outing in Wednesday's 5-3 loss to the Twins continued a disturbing pattern for the Rangers' 25-year-old right-hander. Since joining Texas last season, Tejeda is 8-3 with a 3.56 ERA in 13 road starts, but he is just 1-6 with a 6.24 ERA in 10 home appearances.
"I don't know why that is," Tejeda said, "but I don't want to put that in my head."
Perhaps not, but before a home crowd of 24,370 in the finale of a three-game series, Tejeda (4-4) didn't have much, giving up five runs on seven hits in three-plus innings. Despite laboring through 86 pitches, he still had his shortest start of the year when he was pulled after he was unable to retire the first two hitters in the fourth.
"I don't have any theory for it," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "If he had found his rhythm and gotten comfortable out there, it might have been a different story."
But Tejeda didn't, and the story was painfully familiar to the Rangers (18-29). They lost for the 11th time in 16 games and slipped beneath Kansas City for the worst record in the American League, pending the result of the Royals' late game against the Indians.
The Twins' leadoff batter reached base and scored in each of the four innings Tejeda opened, as Minnesota jumped to a 5-2 lead after four. Texas' starting pitchers are 13-33 with a 6.12 ERA, the highest in the Major Leagues.
"That's numbers," Washington said. "It's over 6.00, I can't deny that. We need to pitch better, but they're trying."
Starting pitching is not the only element breaking down for the Rangers this season. Wednesday's game included two wild pitches, a passed ball and an error from seldom-used catcher Chris Stewart. The Rangers lead the Majors with 42 errors through 47 games.
And an offense batting .252 (13th out of 14 AL teams) was unable to come up with the clutch hit to tie or win the game. The Rangers put two on with two outs, bringing the potential winning run to the plate in each of the final two innings. But Michael Young hit a hard sinking liner that was run down by Twins center fielder Torii Hunter to end the eighth. And Twins closer Joe Nathan struck out Sammy Sosa on a 2-2 fastball to end the game and give Minnesota its second win in the three-game series.
"This is a team thing," Young said. "It's not just the starting pitching, because it's not like we've been lighting the world on fire with our bats early in the season. And we're certainly capable of playing better defense than we have. We're confident in all our starters, and we know they're doing all they can to keep us in the games."
But the strength of the Texas pitching staff was supposed to be the back end of the bullpen, with the three-inning combination of Joaquin Benoit, Akinori Otsuka and closer Eric Gagne being the blunt instrument pounding opponents into submission. The Rangers have only had 10 save chances in their first 47 games.
"We've got to do more in the beginning of games," Young said. "We've been battling hard late in games, but we need to get in position to get the back of our bullpen more involved. And the way to do that is to get the lead earlier in games."
The Rangers only trailed 3-2 when Tejeda got the hook, having walked Nick Punto and given up a single to Luis Castillo to open the fourth. But reliever C.J. Wilson allowed two inherited runners to score, one on a fielder's-choice grounder by Jason Tyner, the other on a wild pitch. Wilson walked four and bounced two wild pitches in his two-inning stint.
Willie Eyre, Frank Francisco and Benoit settled things down after that, combining on four scoreless innings and allowing the Twins one hit after the fifth. But by then the damage had been done.
Texas mustered little against Minnesota starter Boof Bonser (3-1), who struck out six in five innings and escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the third.
The Rangers managed one run in the eighth off reliever Juan Rincon, but they stranded two runners when Young lined out to the Gold Glover Hunter.
"I hit the ball hard," Young said. "I can't control where it goes."
And though the crowd rose in anticipation when Sosa stepped in, pinch-hitting for Ramon Vazquez with two on and two outs in the bottom of the ninth, the drama was short-lived. Sosa struck out swinging in a six-pitch confrontation with Nathan, who notched his ninth save in 10 chances.
It was the Rangers' 11th strikeout in the game and a fitting end to a series that saw their hitters whiff 33 times in three games.
"We ran into some pretty good pitching," Washington said. "We had some opportunities, but we just couldn't cash them in."
The Twins did. Walks and wild pitches played a part in four of their first five runs, while Justin Morneau earned the other with a leadoff homer in the third, his 14th of the year and third in two games.
Tejeda stranded another Twins runner at third to end that third inning, but by then, he already had thrown 76 pitches in another Jekyll-and-Hyde home start.
"I really can't explain what happened," Tejeda said. "Nothing was really working for me today. My arm feels OK, my velocity was good, but I don't really know what's going on today."
Nor does Tejeda know why he seems to have such difficulty showing Arlington fans the same pitcher who has been so effective elsewhere.
"I [might] start thinking it's true, but I can't put in my mind that I'm a better pitcher on the road," he said. "I don't think that's a good idea to have in my mind."
With the loss, the Rangers fell below the .500 mark at home (11-12) for the first time since they were 6-7 after a May 3 doubleheader sweep by the Yankees.
Ken Daley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.