By Mark Miller
While it’s hard to determine any season-long trends from just one week of a new season, enough good things happened for the Texas Rangers last week that they and their fans already can be thinking good thoughts.
The team met its foremost goal of winning series battles with new American League West Division rival Houston and old nemesis Los Angeles/Anaheim. By beating the Astros and Angels two of three games each, the Rangers took up where they left off most of the 2012 regular season. Their 4-2 record came courtesy of a number of noteworthy individual performances.
Four players sustained major success throughout the week with another chipping in while playing sparingly. Leading the way was right-fielder Nelson Cruz who mirrored his strong World Baseball Classic play by batting .458 (11 hits in 24 at-bats) with a home run and eight runs batted in. Right behind him was designated hitter Lance Berkman at .450, 1, 5.
Catcher A.J. Pierzynski had seven hits in his first 18 at-bats including a rare triple for a .389 average. And second baseman Ian Kinsler, trying his best to shake off a shaky 2012, had three homers, eight RBI and a .333 average.
Craig Gentry, who splits time in center field with Leonys Martin, had three hits, including a double and a triple, in seven at-bats in two games for a .429 average.
Coming one out short of a perfect game and winning his second start moved Yu Darvish right to the top on the mound. Though he struggled in the first inning Sunday night against the Angels and re-incurred a blister on his pitching hand, he settled down afterward to keep the team in position to win the finale.
But Darvish was far from the only starting pitcher to shine. Alexi Ogando returned to the rotation with 6.1 innings of shutout ball against the Astros including 10 strikeouts. Derek Holland yielded just two runs in seven innings against the Astros. Only Opening Day starter Matt Harrison struggled yielding 14 hits and 10 earned runs in two outings.
Yet the revamped bullpen may have been the biggest surprise. Youngsters Tanner Scheppers, Michael Kirkman and Robbie Ross gave up no runs and six hits in a combined 10.1 innings with 11 strikeouts. Veteran closer Joe Nathan was nearly perfect in three outings, yielding just two base-runners while striking out four and earning one save.
Aiding the pitchers were fielders who committed just two errors in the six games. They also kept runners close on the bases with just two attempted steals, one successful.
Rays, Mariners coming up
The Rangers complete their opening home-stand with three games against the Tampa Bay Rays, then return to the road with four games in Seattle.
Tampa Bay split its first six games after losing to the Cleveland Indians 13-0 on Sunday. Right-fielder Ben Zobrist led the Rays’ offense with nine hits in 21 at-bats (.429) plus seven RBI. Neither right-hander Alex Cobb and left-hander Matt Moore gave up any runs in their first starts while lefty ace David Price yielded eight runs Sunday. The Rangers only will face Moore this week.
The Mariners went 3-4 following a 4-3 loss at the Chicago White Sox on Sunday. Left-fielder Michael Morse has been the offensive spark with five homers, eight RBI and a .310 average. Center fielder Franklin Gutierrez contributed two homers, six RBI and a .304 average.
Ace starter Felix Hernandez and Hishasi Iwakuma have both pitched well yielding four earned runs in 14 innings and earning a win each.
Upcoming Schedule (All Time CST)
4/8 Rays 7:05 p.m.
4/9 Rays 7:05 p.m.
4/10 Rays 1:05 p.m.
4/11 @Mariners 9:10 p.m.
4/12 @Mariners 9:10 p.m.
4/13 @Mariners 8:10 p.m.
4/14 @Mariners 3:10 p.m.