One place where Ron Washington has struggled during his time as Rangers manager has been bullpen management.
In each of the last two postseasons, Washington has pushed the wrong buttons when it came to relievers and sent his team to losses as a result. Those losses have been hard to watch and they've created an image of Washington as a less than brilliant tactician that is hard to shake.
So it's no surprise that the rapid reaction to Wednesday's 4-3 loss to the A's was that Washington made a hash of things with his relief choices. The Rangers held a 3-1 lead going into the seventh and Washington made his first call by keeping Robbie Ross in to face righty Brandon Inge. Inge doubled, Washington went to Alexi Ogando fresh off the disabled list and Ogando wound up giving up a two-run double to lefty-swinging Josh Reddick.
You could argue plenty of different ways to handle that situation. Ogando could have come in for Inge, he could have been passed over in such a high-leverage spot because of his recent inactivity or Wash could have opted for lefty Michael Kirkman against Reddick. All are viable choices, but none of them really feel like a significantly better choice than the one Washington made.
Kirkman pitched a scoreless eighth and Washington left him in to face Brandon Hicks to start the ninth. Hicks, who bats from the right side, hit his first major-league home run and the game was over with Mike Adams and Joe Nathan both unused. We've long ago given up on the hope that there will ever be another baseball manager familiar enough with the concept of using quality relievers to know that using a closer in a tie game on the road is just fine so we won't kill Washington for that.
Adams is probably the smarter choice than Kirkman, even with two switch-hitters and Reddick coming up later in the inning, but Washington didn't make an egregious error. At some point, you have to see how pitchers handle different situations and Washington chose Wednesday to see how Kirkman did late in a tie game. Hicks isn't some kind of juggernaut with his handful of plate appearances at 26 years old so you challenge Kirkman.
Kirkman failed the challenge which is unfortunate, but it is also better to know that now instead of in a moment when a loss would be really crushing. With a 5.5-game lead over the Angels, the Rangers have enough breathing room to try to rest their key relief arms a little bit while trying to win with some of the lesser choices on hand.
Washington's problem is that he manages this way in the playoffs, when there's no excuse for doing anything but going with the best available pitcher. Washington's choices didn't work on Wednesday, but that doesn't mean they weren't the right choice for a game on July 18.