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Things aren't going so well in Texas, where the Rangers have the worst record in baseball, the 29-year-old general manager has had to take up for his rookie field manager, the starting rotation is bordering on historically bad, and the climate is lending substance to theories that one of the club's marquee players – Mark Teixeira – could be traded by the end of next month.

As the Rangers have trudged to 41 losses, the flashpoints have been Teixeira's refusal to honor manager Ron Washington's take sign and Washington's dugout confrontation with catcher Gerald Laird, the first of which resulted in a heart-to-heart with an unmoved Teixeira and the second of which concluded in a Washington apology before the entire team.

These are, of course, the machinations of an underachieving team which won't stop underachieving until starters Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla and Robinson Tejeda do something to end the early-game disasters. Millwood allowed six runs and didn't get out of the fifth inning in Pittsburgh last night, two days after Padilla also blew out in the fifth. Tejeda has given up 24 runs over four starts in which he's averaged fewer than five innings.

It has run downhill onto Washington, who was supposed to be the anti-Buck Showalter in a clubhouse that had cooled on the whole little dictator act. Now the public debate is whether it's too early to run Washington out of town, and whether he can work out a carpool with GM Jon Daniels.

Daniels called the Teixeira and Laird situations "non-issues," said he'd listen to offers for – but not necessarily shop – Teixeira, who is due to become a free agent after next season, and said he would stick by the affable and knowledgeable Washington.

"I feel very confident in Ron," he said. "Ron is as tremendous a person and as intelligent a baseball man as he was the day he walked in here for his interview. … We haven't played well. But I'm not going to put a starters' ERA in the mid-sixes on Ron."

Daniels said Washington has been given "an unusually short leash" by the local press, which he called, "disgraceful."

"I don't know how to quantify it, but I take a good amount of the responsibility," he said. "One thing I won't do, I'm not going to let Ron wear it."

There appear to be plenty of outfits to go around, both in the clubhouse and in the front office (beginning with trading Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young to the San Diego Padres for Adam Eaton). Daniels' current concern is how to fix the situation.

He said the weeks leading to the trading deadline will be spent both allowing the club to play – and pitch – out of its current condition and assessing players in other organizations for when those organizations come calling, presumably for the likes of veterans Teixeira, Eric Gagne, Millwood, Kenny Lofton, Sammy Sosa, Brad Wilkerson, Frank Catalanotto, et al.

"I'm a realist," Daniels said of the coming months. "The odds are against us. But, I want to give this team a chance to get back. That's the short-term goal. A little beyond that, the trading deadline, I'm prepared for what that brings us."

FIVE …

Elijah Dukes is a talented and apparently troubled young man who has been a handful for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for years. And while the Devil Rays have built the franchise's near future on players of Dukes' generation – Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Delmon Young, B.J. Upton, Carl Crawford – there is a debate as to whether Dukes can reach his full potential in Tampa, where he was raised and, by The St. Petersburg Times' estimate, fathered a minimum of five children with four women in the past four years. Meantime, Dukes, who will be 23 in two weeks, has shown great power potential but has had his batting average slip to .193.

• With seven consecutive wins and 10 wins in 12 games, the Yankees are at .500 for the first time since they were 16-16 on May 9. They haven't had a winning record since April 20, when they were 8-7, and since opening day months have spent seven days (one a rainout day, another a day off) above .500. Toward that end, Mike Mussina gets the ball tonight at The Stadium against the Arizona Diamondbacks and Livan Hernandez. In three career starts against Arizona, two of them in the 2001 World Series, Mussina is 0-2 and has allowed 11 earned runs in 16 innings. Likewise, Hernandez has not beaten the Yankees in three career starts.

• After some ugly ones, Brian Bannister has put together three consecutive starts for the Kansas City Royals in which he has allowed one earned run over 22 innings and won all three, against Tampa Bay, Cleveland and, last night, St. Louis.

• Don't miss Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Hong-Chih Kuo's home run against John Maine last night. Not because Kuo hit a Maine fastball 412 feet. Or because Kuo's home run was the third in three pitches for the usually toothless Dodgers. But because Kuo, who'd had only one major league hit, followed the blast with one of the great bat flips Think of it as a cross between Jack Nicklaus at the 1970 British Open and Reggie Jackson circa 1978. Said Dodgers manager Grady Little: "We'll talk to him. [But] that might be the only chance in his whole career he gets to do that."

Carlos Delgado had been hitless in 16 consecutive at-bats with runners in scoring position before singling home David Wright from second base in the Mets' 4-1 loss to the Dodgers.

… AND FLY

More names GMs are leafing through seven weeks out on the trading deadline: Omar Vizquel, Mark Grudzielanek, Jason Jennings, Brad Wilkerson, Brian Fuentes, Tad Iguchi, Ray Durham. There is also growing speculation among scouts the Dodgers have promoted Matt Kemp and James Loney to showcase them as trade pieces for a power hitter. The Dodgers, however, are more concerned about the apparent declines of veterans Jeff Kent and Nomar Garciaparra at the plate and feel the prospects need big-league at-bats in order to be productive in the second half.

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