BY: Richard W. Humphrey
It’s time to take the Texas Rangers seriously as a playoff contender in the American League. They are back home this week coming off their first winning road trip of the season after taking two of three from the Cincinnati Reds this weekend to go 4-3 on the trip. They remain 9.5 games behind Houston and 2.5 games (three in the loss column) ahead of Oakland in the American League West. They are tied with Boston for the second Wild Card berth, though technically in front of the Red Sox with a better winning percentage.
The Cincy series began with a bullpen game for Texas. That’s dicey, as bullpen games have the potential to wipe out the relief corps for two or three days, if not more. This time though, it worked out fine. Jesse Chavez started the game and completed three shutout innings. He even got a hit, a rarity for relief pitchers even in the National League.
The Rangers put two runs on the board in the first inning. Nomar Mazara drove in one run, and Elvis Andrus stole home for the other.
Bret Martin followed Chavez to the mound and worked scoreless fourth and fifth innings allowing just one hit and striking out two. The Ranger batters further eased the pressure with a four run fifth inning. Rougned Odor connected for a grand slam home run to extend the lead to 6-0. It was the fourth of the year for Texas and the fourth in Odor’s career.
Jeffrey Springs pitched the sixth inning, and Drew Smyly finished the game, allowing a run on three hits over the final three innings. Five of the nine outs he recorded were strikeouts.
The Rangers also added a run to make the final score 7-1. Martin qualified for the win, his first decision in the Majors. Smyly earned his first save of the year and third in his career. Reds starter Tyler Mahle is 2-7 with the loss.
Saturday looked to be an easy win early. The Reds committed an error on a Shin-Soo Choo ground ball leading off the game. He scored, and Asdrubal Cabrera drove in a second run with a two out single. Odor led off the fourth inning with a double and scored on Jeff Mathis’s single. Mathis later scored on Choo’s single to push the lead to 4-0.
From there it wasn’t easy. Reds starter Tanner Roark and two relievers shut out the Rangers over the final five innings. Yasiel Puig got the first Reds hit of the game in the bottom of the fourth – a home run with a runner on base to cut the Ranger lead in half at 4-2.
Mike Minor was the Rangers’ starting pitcher. He gave up four hits on the night over 6-1/3rd innings. One of the other three hits was a solo home run off the bat of Curt Casali to trim the lead to one run. Chris Martin relieved Minor in the seventh and bailed him out of trouble by ending the inning with a ground ball double play.
Jose Leclerc and Shawn Kelley took care of the eighth and ninth innings to secure the 4-3 win. Minor is 6-4 with the win. Kelley earned his eighth save. Roark is 4-6 with the loss.
Sunday’s Rangers’ starting lineup almost assured a loss. Manager Chris Woodward said that Andrus and Cabrera really needed a day off, so the left side of the infield was removed from consideration. Mazara left Saturday’s game early with an injury and was unavailable. It left a very short bench.
It started out okay for Texas with Choo hitting a home run in the first inning. The Reds came back with three second inning runs off Ranger starter Ariel Jurado, who simply wasn’t in for a good day. Texas came back to tie the game at three with two runs in the third inning. Choo singled with two outs and Hunter Pence homered.
That was as good as it got for the Rangers. Jurado gave up a run in the third inning to put the Reds back in the lead at 4-3. He was knocked out in the fourth inning, in which he retired none of the three batters he faced. They all scored to make Jurado’s final line three innings pitched allowing seven runs on nine hits and a walk. He struck out no one.
Pete Fairbacks followed Jurado and gave up a home run. Springs was next to the mound and retired no one. He gave up two hits and three walks to the five batters he faced. Three of them scored. Shelby Miller and Chris Martin finished the game without further scoreboard damage.
When the smoke cleared, the Reds had an 11-3 win. Sonny Gray, who pitched at Vanderbilt with Mike Minor, was a Ranger tormentor early in his career with the Oakland Athletics. He was again Sunday starting and getting the win for the Reds to improve to 3-5. Jurado is 4-3 with the loss.
INJURY UPDATE: Nomar Mazaro was removed from Saturday’s game with soreness in his right knee. He is scheduled for an MRI on Monday. Hunter Pence came out of Sunday’s game with tightness in his left groin. He too is scheduled for an MRI on Monday. Willie Calhoun is expected to be activated from the IL this week, perhaps taking the place of Mazara or Pence if they are placed on the IL. Joey Gallo is working out with the Frisco Rough Riders and could be ready to rejoin the Rangers by the weekend.
The tortuous stretch of 21 games in 20 days continues in Arlington this week starting with the Cleveland Indians for four games. The announced starting pitchers for Texas are Lance Lynn (7-4) on Monday, Adrian Sampson (5-3) on Tuesday, TBD on Wednesday and Mike MInor (6-4) on Thursday. At this point, the leading candidate to start Wednesday is Joe Palumbo, who has made one start at AA Frisco since his Ranger debut last weekend.
* PERE ET FILS: The first base coach in this series for Cincinnati was Delino DeShields (Pere), and the center fielder for the Rangers was Delino DeShields (Fils). (They have different middle names, so are not senior and junior.) It was father DeShields’ first time to watch his son play in person in a Major League game on Fathers’ Day.
* The Rangers lead the AL in unearned runs scored with 45. Texas has allowed just 22 unearned runs this season.