BY: Richard W. Humphrey
ARLINGTON, Texas – The Texas Rangers coughed up an early 4-0 lead Thursday afternoon, but came back to beat Seattle 8-6 to win their third game in a row, the longest winning streak of the young season. Texas won their second consecutive series three games to one to improve their 2014 record to 9-7, which trails the Athletics by 1.5 games, two in the loss column. Oakland at 10-5 has the best record in the American League. Seattle fell to 7-8 and to a third place tie with the Angels in the division.
Tanner Scheppers started for Texas, his fourth outing of the year. Ranger hitters staked him to an early lead by plating three runs in the first inning and adding another in the second on Sin-Shoo Choo’s first home run in a Ranger uniform. However, as he is wont to do, Scheppers gave up a big inning in the third. In three of his four starts, Scheppers has given up an inning of at least five runs. Thursday afternoon, he recorded just one out in the third inning and ended the day with six runs allowed, all earned on six hits. Included among the Mariners’ six hits was the first home run from Robinson Cano as a Mariner. Scheppers walked three batters and struck out two. The outing ballooned his ERA to 9.82.
Kevin Kouzmanoff led off the third inning with a double knocking Seattle starting pitcher Erasmo Ramirez out of the game. Mitch Moreland doubled him home and later scored on a ground out to tie the game at six. Texas took the lead with two more runs in the fifth inning. 8-6 was the final score. Pedro Figueroa (2-1) was the winning pitcher, Joakim Soria pitched a scoreless ninth inning for his second save. Joe Beimel (0-1) took the loss in relief for Seattle.
The premier game of the series was Wednesday’s stellar pitching matchup between Seattle’s “King” Felix Hernandez, a past Cy Young Award winner, and the Rangers’ Yu Darvish. The game lived up to the billing, as both pitchers were magnificent. Darvish finally was scored upon, allowing a pair of second inning runs, the first runs he has allowed this year in three starts. He completed seven innings, striking out eight and walking two. The two runs moved Darvish’s ERA from zero to 0.82. Seattle batters struck for seven hits, a triple and six singles.
Hernandez was even better. He turned in seven shutout innings, but was removed from the game one batter into the eighth when Leonys Martin tripled leading off. Martin scored to cut the Mariners’ lead to 2-1, and that was the score going into the bottom of the ninth.
Seattle closer Fernando Rodney took the mound to seal the deal. He was great for two batters, getting a fly out from Alex Rios and striking out Fielder. He never retired another batter. A single, walk and error loaded the bases. Rodney then threw a wild pitch allowing the runner on third base to score the tying run. Mitch Moreland then scored the game winner on a soft Martin single into short left center field.
3-2 was the final score, the fourth walk-off win of the year for Texas, which leads the Majors. Relievers Pedro Figueroa and Rodney (0-1) were the winning and losing pitchers respectively.
In the series opener, the Rangers’ offense simply did not show up. The start time temperature was officially 52 degrees, and it quickly dipped into the 40′s. The Rangers’ bats were colder than the temperature. Mariners’ left-handed rookie Reonis Elias made his third start of the season and won his first Major League game by holding Texas to a run on five hits over 6-2/3rds innings. He struck out five, walked two, and lowered his ERA to 2.16. Texas managed seven hits total in the game, only one of which was for extra bases – a double from Fielder. He scored the lone Rangers run, driven in by Kouzamanoff.
The good news for Rangers’ fans was Colby Lewis. He made his first Major League start in 21 months and did well. He shut out the M’s for four innings, surrendered a home run to Mike Zunino in the fifth inning, and should have been taken out then, as his pitch count was almost 90. He had accomplished all that could be accomplished in his return to the mound. Unfortunately, he came back out for the sixth inning and managed to retire just one more batter in the game. In the end, he was charged with four earned runs in taking his first loss of the year. His ERA ballooned to 6.75.
Lewis was relieved by Pedro Figueroa who managed to get just one out in the sixth inning and gave up three more runs. 7-1 was the final score. Hector Noesi, acquired over the weekend in a trade with the Mariners, made his first Ranger appearance and finished the sixth, seventh and eighth innings without further scoreboard damage to lower his ERA to 8.10.
In game two on Tuesday, Robbie Ross put together a great performance on the mound. He pitched 7.2 innings, giving up no runs on five hits. He didn’t walk anyone, but hit Brad Miller twice. He kept the ball low in the strike zone to coax 16 groundouts. Not surprisingly, the game time was 2:22.
The Rangers’ offense supported him with two early runs on back-to-back home runs from Fielder and Kouzmanoff. Both were their first for the Rangers. Texas put the game out of reach in the eighth inning with three more runs, two of which were also driven in by Kouzmanoff. 5-0 was the final score. It was the Rangers’ fourth shutout of the year.
When Matt Harrison returns to the rotation, Ross or Scheppers is the likely candidate to return to the bullpen. Ross went a long way toward staking his claim to stay in the rotation. His ERA is now 1.00 for the season.
The home stand concludes this weekend with three games against the White Sox. Martin Perez (2-0), Colby Lewis (0-1) and Robbie Ross (1-0) are the Friday, Saturday and Sunday starters. Locally, Friday’s game will be televised on channel 21, while Saturday’s and Sunday’s games will be televised on Fox Sports Southwest. Sunday’s game begins at 2:05, while the other two have 7:05 start times.
ROSTER MOVES: On Monday, the Rangers designated Daniel McCutchen for assignment. The move made available spots on both the 40-man and 25-man active roster for Colby Lewis, Monday’s starting pitcher. On Wednesday, the Rangers announced that McCutchen had cleared waivers and had been assigned to AAA Round Rock.
INJURY UPDATE: Matt Harrison made his rehab start for AA Frisco Monday night, and the results were less than expected. He needed 77 pitches to complete 3-1/3 innings, allowing three runs on six hits. In his defense, it was a cold blustery night in North Little Rock with temperatures in the low to mid 40′s. He likely will be afforded one additional start prior to being activated, which will not be on April 23 as previously projected. His next appearance will be this Saturday for either AA Frisco or AAA Round Rock. Also, GM Jon Daniels told the media that Derek Holland is ahead of schedule with his throwing program at the Rangers’ Surprise, Arizona spring training facility. With his knee injury, the real test of his rehabilitation will be when he begins pitchers’ fielding practice drills. Lastly, Joe Saunders had a Wednesday bullpen throwing session cut short with pain in his left ankle.
* The Rangers’ bullpen has gone 14-1/3rd innings without giving up a run and have a 0.42 ERA in the seven games so far on the current home stand.
* Texas has won all three home series this year, and has won all three final games of those series.
* With Hector Noesi’s appearance in this series, the Rangers have now utilized 30 players in games this year, the most in the Majors.