BY: Richard W. Humphrey
Scott Feldman came out of the Rangers’ bullpen to make a spot start Tuesday night to rest Matt Harrison. Feldman was marvelous, allowing two hits, a walk while striking out four over six shutout innings en route to a 2-0 Ranger win over Tampa Bay to open a three-game series. He was the winning pitcher, his first of the season, and the first for a Ranger starting pitcher this season that wasn’t a member of the opening day starting five.
Feldman departed after six innings. He told Manager Ron Washington he could continue, but Washington opted for Mark Lowe and Darren Oliver to pitch the seventh. Mike Adams pitched another solid eighth inning. Neftali Feliz allowed the other Rays hit, but closed out the game with a scoreless ninth inning to claim his 26th save of the year.
The Rays’ Jeremy Hellickson came close to matching Feldman pitch for pitch. He opened with five shutout innings, before Josh Hamilton cracked the scoreboard in the sixth with a mammoth home run that was estimated at 449 feet after it landed well up in the second level of home run porch in right field. A double and a pair of singles followed to send home a second run and complete the scoring on the evening.
The shutout was the 16th of the year for the Rangers’ staff, which leads the American League and is one shy of the club record. The win also kept the Rangers 3-1/2 games ahead of the Angels, who beat the Mariners 13-6. The Rangers’ magic number is down to 24.
The story Tuesday night was Scott Feldman, who was the forgotten man on the Rangers’ staff. A 17 game winner in 2009 and the Rangers’ opening day starter in 2010, last year’s campaign was curtailed by a knee injury that led to microfracture surgery. He was not well enough to pitch when the season began and opened the year on the disabled list. He did not appear in a Major League game until July 22, and Tuesday’s start was just his eighth appearance of the year.
When Feldman is “on”, he induces ground balls, and he was “on” against the Rays. Manager Ron Washington said after the game, “I think he gave up one fly ball. He had good movement on his ball and kept it down in the strike zone.” (Actually the official box score listed 12 ground outs and no fly outs for Feldman.)
When this start is coupled with his last relief appearance, Feldman has now tossed 10 consecutive shutout innings, allowing just four hits. Winning a game is what it’s all about in a pennant race, but discovering another starting pitching option is a good thing to find too.