Bats can't overcome club's nine walks

Bats can't overcome club's nine walks

ST. PETERSBURG -- Wednesday afternoon's game looked like it had been played before.

And in many ways, it already had.

For the fourth time in the past 11 days, the Rangers entered the game fresh off a win and back at .500. And, in what has also become standard fare, the club floundered in the subsequent outing, after another taunting taste at climbing above the .500 mark.

The Rangers fell, 5-3, to the Rays in the series rubber match, as starter Kason Gabbard showcased a puzzling inability to throw strikes for the second consecutive start.

The southpaw, who issued a season-high six walks in his previous outing, was yanked after issuing three fifth-inning free passes -- one intentionally -- en route to notching another half-dozen walks.

Gabbard tossed only 39 of his 85 pitches for strikes and constantly gave the Rays' batters favorable counts.

"You know that old saying that walks haunt? Well, they certainly haunted us today," manager Ron Washington said.

The Rays wasted no time cashing in on the fateful fifth inning. The club plated four runs, patiently allowing Gabbard, and eventually reliever Frank Francisco, to combine for five walks, which, minus a sacrifice fly, accounted for all of the Rays' RBIs.

"You have to give their offense a little credit there, because they made us put the ball over the plate," Washington said. "Once again, we know [Gabbard's] better than what he's showing. He's just got to get more consistent with throwing the ball in the strike zone. He's got to find some control."

Gabbard entered Wednesday's game already on a skid, as the young hurler had allowed 13 earned runs in his last 13 innings, and his performance in Cleveland on Friday accounted for a season-high six earned runs in a season-low 2 2/3 innings.

While Washington emphatically denies that Gabbard's back, which sent him to the disabled list earlier this season, is the problem, the skipper acknowledged that his poor pitching is a concern.

"It's time to throw a bullpen [session] and see how he feels before he can make his next start," Washington said. "It certainly doesn't have anything to do with him being fatigued, he's missed already a lot [on the DL]. Just a matter of him and the strike zone."

While Gabbard declined to talk to the media, backstop Jarrod Saltalamacchia agreed that physically, the young hurler appears fine.

"His velocity, I thought, was up tonight. Everything was looking good," Saltalamacchia said. "His sinker just didn't have his stuff to throw strikes tonight."

After Scott Kazmir's 10-strikeout performance in Monday's loss, Wednesday's starter Matt Garza repeated the feat. The young right-hander smashed his previous season high of four strikeouts in a four-hit, eight-inning performance.

While Garza wasn't nearly as dominating as Kazmir, the game was a far cry from the Rangers' 12-run performance in Tuesday's win.

Garza retired the first nine batters he faced before issuing a leadoff walk to Ian Kinsler in the fourth inning. Michael Young doubled for his 14th straight game with a hit, and Milton Bradley delivered a two-run single.

But the game's early momentum went kaput with Texas' inability to plate any more runs against Garza, despite a promising fifth inning.

After a leadoff single from Frank Catalanotto and a two-out hit from Kinsler, Texas came up scoreless and didn't threaten again until the final frame, tacking on a run against closer Troy Percival, who had to leave the game with two outs in the ninth due to a leg injury.

"We didn't make them earn it," Washington said. "Bottom line is they scored enough runs to win in that fifth inning. That's what killed us."

While Gabbard -- who has allowed five runs in three straight starts -- will certainly need to make adjustments, no one seems to know what exactly those will be.

The same can be said for the Rangers. Despite their first series loss since a three-game sweep at Detroit on April 22-24, the club has been unable to post a winning record since April 10, when it was 5-4.

Adjustments need to be made.

"It's just not time for us to get there yet," Josh Hamilton said. "I made a comment pregame to one of the guys, I said, 'Have we been over .500 since earlier in the season?' No. So, it's one of those things you can't worry about. We are going to put a stretch together, we are going to win seven, eight [straight]."

Still, no one seems to know exactly when that will be.

Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.