Fenway visit a litmus test for depleted Rangers
Manager Washington keeping young pitchers calm as they step up on stage
Ron Washington said whenever he takes his Texas Rangers into Fenway Park: "I get butterflies. Yes, they're butterflies, but as long as they don't turn into moths, we'll be fine."
The Rangers visit the iconic Boston venue for three games this week, the second half of a draining six-game trip that included a tough weekend against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.
It's no wonder Washington has butterflies, because his pitching staff is so depleted with injuries he's sending three youngsters -- Tanner Scheppers, Martin Perez and Robbie Ross Jr -- against the defending World Series champions.
Even though it's only April, the lone trip to Boston this season for the Rangers -- as banged up as they are -- should tell how well they stack up against the Red Sox.
With starters Matt Harrison and Derek Holland on the disabled list, Washington has had to summon relievers from his bullpen to start in this demanding series.
"I just hope we can pitch, get some hits, put some runs on the board and win some ballgames," he said.
The patched-up Rangers lineup rallied to win two of three games from the Phillies last week as the season opened at Globe Life Park, then fell Friday and Saturday nights against the Rays.
But on Sunday, with ace Yu Darvish returning from the DL and not looking a bit rusty from a three-week layoff, the Rangers shut down the Rays, 3-0.
And then it was off to Boston.
Darvish was the first of the wounded to return. In addition to Harrison and Holland, second baseman Jurickson Profar and catcher Geovany Soto are on the shelf.
Joe Saunders, suffering from a bruised left ankle after being hit by an Evan Longoria line drive last Friday night, is on the disabled list, too. The Rangers will have to come up with a starter for Friday's game against Houston.
"There's no panic here," Washington said. "Nobody is going to feel sorry for us. We're going to show up with 25 guys and win some ballgames."
The thing about Washington is he's as good as they come at calming a team that's going through a tough time.
MLB.com's Rangers beat reporter T. R. Sullivan knows Washington well and said, "He remains the stabilizing voice for the Rangers. As general manager Jon Daniels refers to it, the 'tremendous winning culture' he's established continues to keep the team on-course through all this turbulence [injuries]."
So when Washington talks about butterflies and not allowing them turn into moths, he's indirectly sending a message to his young players, especially the pitchers who are being pressed into unaccustomed starting roles.
Washington is essentially saying it's OK to realize the importance of three games against the reigning champs, but don't blow one series out of proportion.
The other night at Tropicana Field, Washington summoned Nick Martinez from the Minor Leagues as an emergency starter against the Rays.
Not only was this Martinez's Major League debut, it was also in front of his family, who'd driven over from their home in South Florida.
Martinez gave the Rangers their first quality start of the season and could have won the game had the bullpen not collapsed. The Rays rallied to win, 5-4.
The next day, the 23-year-old right-hander was returned to Double-A Frisco, but to soften the blow, Washington said, "As we move forward, he's going to pitch for the Texas Rangers for a long time. Don't read too much into the fact he was sent back down [to the Minor Leagues]. We know who Nick Martinez is.
"The one thing that I was looking for was how well he controlled his emotions with his family here and all that. He did very well."
The three youngsters have never made a start at Fenway Park, and Perez has never pitched there.
"When I was young, I looked at those stadiums on television," said Perez. "To be able to pitch in Fenway Park will be great for me."
Washington doesn't believe any of them will be overcome by the importance of their starts against the Red Sox.
"We really don't know how they're going to react until they get out there, but it's not their first time facing the Boston Red Sox," he said. "They've all come in during tough relief situations against them. I just hope they're able to execute their pitches as they did in relief."
Washington said it's all about "pitchability."
For Washington and the Rangers, it's what the young starters must have to keep the butterflies from turning into moths at Fenway Park.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.