Tuesday Newsletter time: Here's what was behind Rangers' decision to start Spencer Howard, use A.J. Alexy in relief

Howard struggled again Monday night, lasting only 1 1/3 innings, while Alexy allowed the first runs of his career.

Spencer Howard had a short night Monday, lasting only 1 1/3 innings before manager Chris Woodward took the ball from him (The Associated Press/Spencer Howard).

Spencer Howard was the Texas Rangers’ key acquisition at the trade deadline, a right-handed starter who entered this season as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball.

He started Monday to open a four-game series against the Houston Astros.

Monday had been A.J. Alexy’s day to start. All this right-hander did in his first two MLB starts was become the only pitcher in MLB history to open his career with two straight starts of at least five scoreless innings and no more than one hit allowed.

He followed Howard, who is on a pitch count as he retools his mechanics after getting lost without a role in Philadelphia.

What’s the big deal? Probably nothing.

“Howard has been starting, so we put him out there,” manager Chris Woodward said. “It doesn’t matter. Both guys were going to get to their pitches. Howard, his routine before the game, we were probably more worried if he didn’t start.”

But it feels like there was more to it than just a scheduling conflict. It might say how much more upside the Rangers see in Howard than Alexy and how much work Howard needs to get there.

The Rangers were convinced July 31 that Howard has top-of-the-rotation potential. He wasn’t pitching like that when they got him and two minor-league pitchers for right-handers Kyle Gibson, Ian Kennedy and Hans Crouse.

Howard didn’t pitch like that Monday, allowing six runs in 1 1/3 innings of a 15-1 loss.

“He’s been working on a lot of things,” Woodward said. “There’s just some things he’s got to fix and clean up. The only thing I saw today was a lack of conviction in his throw. They said it was coming out hot in the bullpen.”

Howard was lost without a routine, the by-product of being yo-yo’d between the Phillies’ bullpen and rotation. He couldn’t carry his velocity past a couple innings.

To get him straight and be the ace they think he can be, the Rangers are letting him start and fall into a starter’s routine even though they know they will need a heavy load of relief innings.

That duty fell last week to Jordan Lyles, who isn’t part of the Rangers’ future. It fell Monday to Alexy, despite all he did in his first two starts and what he did this season in the minors (1.66 ERA).

Alexy didn’t pitch nearly as well as he did in two starts. The Astros scored six against him in 3 2/3 innings, though two scored after he left at 84 pitches. Three of the four walks Alexy issued came in his final inning, the sixth.

“It was a good night from the aspect of a lot of learning for me,” Alexy said. “That’s not the result I wanted, but there’s a lot of things I can look at and work on through the next couple weeks.”

It turns out that the Howard-Alexy piggyback is likely a one-time thing. Woodward said that the Rangers are planning to give them their own day to start the rest of the season.

They should have two starts apiece remaining, maybe three. The plan is to stretch out Howard a tad more than just two or three innings. Alexy can’t get the work he needs working behind Howard in that scenario.

What happened Monday wasn’t a big deal, Woodward said. It just feels like there was more to it than a scheduling conflict.

Nice work, Charlie

Charlie Culberson pitched the ninth inning and was the only Rangers pitcher to not surrender a run, so that ought to tell you that the game was actually worse than the final score. The 3:53 game time is another indicator.

Culberson, an infielder, needed only seven pitches. He erased a leadoff single by Chas McCormick by inducing a broken-bat double-play grounder from Marwin Gonzalez. Culberson’s fastball sat 89-91 mph.

Woodward wanted to give the bullpen a break after using Wes Benjamin for two outs in the second inning, then Alexy and Hyeon-Jong Yang. There weren’t as many relievers available as it appeared.

“We were really thin today,” Woodward said. “We knew were pretty light from the start. We didn’t want to go through the rest of our guys. We had, basically, two guys. Charlie going out there saved up.”

Culberson has six career relief appearances, including two this season. He also tossed a scoreless inning in June against the Dodgers. He is the third position player in Rangers history with multiple outings in the same season, joining Adam Rosales in 2015 and Jeff Mathis in 2019.

Woodward, always seeing the glass half-full, said the Rangers will have a full arsenal of relievers Tuesday while the Astros deal with a shortened bullpen after they used five relievers after starter Jake Odorizzi left injured (foot) after 1 1/3 innings.

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Roster news

The injured list is going to shrink this week, beginning as early as Tuesday, and the Rangers might be able to pull off their latest shuffle without having to expose anyone to waivers.

First up is infielder Brock Holt, who came down with COVID in late August. He has been rehabbing with Round Rock but is expected to return to the roster Tuesday. Because of COVID rules this season, Holt was taken off the 40-man roster but has to be put back on it. The Rangers can accomplish that by putting Eli White (elbow) on the 60-day IL.

Willie Calhoun (broken arm) shifted his rehab assignment Monday to Round Rock and could be back with the Rangers as soon as Wednesday, Woodward said. Calhoun is on the 60-day IL, but reliever Nick Snyder, who has no structural issues in his right shoulder but won’t pitch again this season, can be placed on the 60-day IL.

Hey, this is easy.

Lastly, infielder Andy Ibanez (left hamstring) started a rehab assignment Monday at Round Rock and could rejoin the Rangers on Friday. He’s on the 10-day IL, so the Rangers can simply option a player to the minors or place someone else on the IL.

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I think the dog was trying to tell the red team to get it together. Enjoy. See you Wednesday.

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