The tandem system the Texas Rangers are using to fill out two spots in their rotation to start this season is going along very nicely.
Plus, it sounds a little more professional than what it is — a piggyback system.
Jordan Lyles and Dane Dunning have been the starters in the tandems, with Wes Benjamin and Taylor Hearn the first relievers up. While they’re coming out of the bullpen, they’re still under consideration for rotation spots in the future.
Manager Chris Woodward isn’t sure if the Rangers will be able to keep the tandems rolling all season. Ideally, Woodward has said since late in spring training, Lyles would pitch well enough to shed the tandem label.
Through three starts, he appears to be on his way.
Lyles allowed three runs in 5 1/3 innings Thursday. He didn’t handle prosperity particularly well, as he coughed up the lead twice, but the Rangers were in the lead when Benjamin replaced him in the sixth.
That was also the case Saturday, but Benjamin couldn’t hold the lead.
How did the formula work out Thursday? No, but ...
Here’s some Rangers Reaction from a 6-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.
Garcia to the rescue
The Rangers blew a lead for the third time in the game in a messy seventh inning in which Benjamin and Brett de Geus walked four batters. The Rays scored only once, but they did so on a play in which Jose Trevino and Leody Taveras committed throwing errors.
Trevino attempted to pick off Brett Phillips at second base, but the throw went into center field. That’s where Taveras scooped it up and fired to third, where the ball hit a sliding Phillips in the helmet and ricocheted far enough away from him to race home.
“We’re going to learn from that,” Woodward said.
The score remained tied at 4 over the final two innings, sending the Rangers to extra innings for the first time in 2021. Just as was the case last season, the inning begins with a runner at second base.
Trevino opened at second and was still there with one out after Joey Gallo struck out. That brought up Adolis Garcia, one of the heroes from Wednesday even though instant replay took away his first career homer.
He took replay out of the equation Thursday, sending a pitch over the right-field wall for a two-run homer.
“I talked to a friend last night and told him I hit the top rail and it wasn’t a home run,” Garcia said. “But I told him, ‘Wait until tomorrow. I’m going to get it tomorrow.’”
It was justice. It was revenge. It was the hit that gave the Rangers a series win on the road against the reigning American League champions.
The homer also was significant to Garcia because it came on Jackie Robinson Day. He said it was an honor to play on the day of the player who broke the color barrier 74 years ago and allowed players of all races to play in the majors.
Woodward said that he could see a physical resemblance between Robinson and Garcia, who is a couple inches taller than Robinson was but around the same weight (200 pounds).
But to see Garcia jump as he rounded first base, after seeing the ball land in the seats, was a thrill for everyone in the dugout. It was also a first, as Garcia became the first player in Rangers history to hit a go-ahead home run in extra innings for his first career homer.
“It’s so cool to watch,” Woodward said. “That’s the true reason you play this game, for moments like that.”
Lyles said that Garcia was “probably the strongest guy in the stadium” on top of being a genuinely quality person. The Rangers got to know him last year in spring training, spring training 2.0, and during the season, and say he is a team-first player who cheers everyone on.
“We all love him,” Lyles said. “He has every tool there is. He probably has the strongest cannon I’ve ever seen. He’s probably one of the nicest guys you’ll meet in the clubhouse. We enjoy his success probably more than he does himself.”
Rangers building confidence
The Rangers arrived at Tropicana Field the losers of three straight, and had been no-hit in the first loss and shut out in the third. The Rays won the opener of the four-game series 1-0, and the Rangers entered Tuesday on a 22-inning scoreless streak.
The Rangers headed for their charter flight home Thursday night on a three-game winning streak and feeling good about themselves after surviving extra innings to beat a team that went to the World Series last year.
Confidence is building.
“We feel good about this win,” Lyles said. “More importantly we feel good about a 3-1 series win against the defending AL champions.”
The Rangers won Tuesday fairly comfortably, 8-3, and pulled away Wednesday with a big seventh inning to win 5-1.
But the Rays didn’t go quietly Thursday, as they erased deficits of 1-0, 3-1 and 4-3.
The Rangers, meanwhile, leaned on rookie relievers de Geus, Hearn and Josh Sborz to get them to the extra innings, and saw Garcia, another rookie, win the game.
They didn’t fold after the lousy seventh inning.
What did is find a way to win a ballgame.
“It’s huge to learn how to win,” Woodward said. “We can do all the preparation we want and all the philosophical talking about how we want to play, but we’ve got to be able to figure out to win between the lines. To be able to do it against at team like that, it’s super meaningful.”
Taveras’ busy night
For all the struggles Taveras is having at the plate, they haven’t appeared to affect him defensively. Also, while he’s batting just .111, he has actually had several quality at-bats.
His error, which, again, came after an on-target throw, tarnished a night in center field in which he was in the thick of things throughout. At one point, he made five straight putouts.
The Rangers, though, have never had any concerns about Taveras’ defense. He was a Gold Glove winner in the minors, and Woodward believes Taveras has the potential to join Gallo and Isiah Kiner-Falefa in the MLB Gold Glove Club.
The bat is going to make or break Taveras, and he’s breaking so far. But he collected an infield hit in the fourth and stole second base, and he lined out twice in his final two at-bats.
“This guy has been impressive,” Woodward said. “The one thing I will say about Leo through all of this, he and Adolis remind me of the same thing. They just bring a really positive attitude every day.
“On defense, he knows that’s his strength. He’s an elite center fielder, and, honestly, he gets a lot more leash because of how well he plays defense. And he’s growing as a hitter. He’s learning a lot of things on the fly in the majors. We all know that.”