The Texas Rangers are performing far below expectations and have been fighting through an especially difficult slump over the past two-plus weeks, leaving manager Ron Washington to get creative with his starting lineup and pitching rotation.
Nick Tepesch takes the mound after an eight-day layoff as Texas looks to win two of three from the host New York Mets on Sunday.The Rangers (38-49) won at least 90 games for the fourth straight year in 2013, but they've been languishing with one of the worst records in the AL as this season continues to slip away.Washington used a different lineup for the 20th consecutive game as Texas ended a 10-game road skid with Saturday's 5-3 victory, and injuries have forced him to use 45 players -- the most in the majors and one short of how many participated all of last season.The Rangers had lost six straight overall, but Robinson Chirinos hit a three-run homer in a four-run first inning and Adrian Beltre hit a solo shot in the third to help end the slide."We're supposed to be winning more ballgames right now," Beltre said. "All the injuries and stuff -- we still have a pretty good team, and we shouldn't be losing as much as we've been. No excuse. We should be playing better, and that's what we expect."Washington has juggled his rotation as well recently as the starters posted a 7.26 ERA during the losing streak. Tepesch (3-3, 3.65 ERA) has been pushed back twice in the last week and originally was scheduled to pitch Friday's series opener.The right-hander's last appearance came June 27, when he gave up three hits in 7 1/3 scoreless innings of a 5-4 win over Minnesota in his best start since being called up in mid-May."It hasn't been tough at all," Tepesch told MLB's official website of the layoff. "I've stuck to my program and been preparing myself. The day I pitch may change, but I still don't change the way I prepare."Tepesch will face a Mets team that has dropped eight of 10 after Saturday's loss that came despite the return of David Wright, who had missed the previous seven games with a sore left shoulder.Wright went 1 for 4 with a double to extend his hitting streak to 11, while Travis d'Arnaud hit a solo homer in the fourth. The 25-year-old catcher has hit safely in nine of 10 games since being recalled from the minors.The Mets (38-49) will look to take the series as they hand the ball to Zack Wheeler, who has been inconsistent over his last three starts.After striking out eight in a three-hitter for his first career shutout in a 1-0 win at Miami on June 19, Wheeler (3-8, 4.25) gave up a career-worst six runs in just two innings of an 8-5 loss to Oakland on June 25.The right-hander walked five but gave up one run over 6 1/3 innings of New York's 5-3 loss to Atlanta on Monday. He left with a 3-1 lead."It happens every once in a while," Wheeler said. "I fell into a little groove the more I went into the game. My command was there a little more. I just felt comfortable."New York's starters have a 6.44 ERA over the last 10 games.