Pitching and Defense Keep Texas Afloat

Will Beltre and the Rangers find their stroke this week? Photo Courtesy: Darryl Briggs
Will Beltre and the Rangers find their stroke this week? Photo Courtesy: Darryl Briggs

By Mark Miller

More evidence that the 2013 Texas Rangers will be unlike those of the immediate past was very prevalent last week.

Scoring just 22 runs (3.6 per game) but yielding only 18 (3.0), the Rangers won four of seven games to move to an 8-5 overall record. In so doing, they showed off their improved pitching and defense while waiting for their offense to click.

“We still have some guys trying to find their stride,” manager Ron Washington told mlb.com. “Pitching and defense are keeping us in the game. We’re going to start swinging the bats soon, but we’ve got some guys trying to find themselves.”

The Rangers’ pitchers have a combined 2.92 earned run average and have been backed by a defense with just five errors in 13 games. Those areas have helped make up for a .251 team batting average and .398 slugging percentage.

Only Lance Berkman (.313), Leonys Martin (.300) and A.J. Pierzynski (.300) were above .300 for the week among those in at least four games. But despite hitting just .231, Elvis Andrus drove in a team-leading six runs. Pierzynski had two home runs and Ian Kinsler and Mitch Moreland one each.

The pitching was highlighted by the performances of four players, two starters and two relievers.

Alexi Ogando showed twice more why the decision to move him back into the rotation was the right one. The Dominican right-hander yielded just one run on three hits in 5.1 innings against the Tampa Bay Rays and a run on five hits in five innings Saturday at Seattle.

Rookie right-hander Nick Tepesch had an impressive major league debut the night after Ogando against the Rays. He went 7.1 innings, giving up just four hits and one run to become the first rookie pitcher in the majors in five years to go at least 7.1 innings with one or zero runs in their debut.

Closer Joe Nathan saved all three games he appeared in including the 300th of his career in the opener against Tampa. More impressive perhaps was 22-year-old rookie left-hander Joe Ortiz. After retiring all five batters he faced against Tampa Bay, the 5-foot-7 Ortiz set down all six and earned the victory in the opener at Seattle and six of seven batters for another win two nights later.

Cubs, Mariners on tap
It’s been 11 years since the Rangers visited the friendly confines of Wrigley Field in Chicago. That means most current players will be making the first trip to the famous stadium this week.

“There’s a lot of history there,” said Mitch Moreland, one of those first-timers. “I’m really looking forward to it.”

“It will be a treat for all those who haven’t been there,” said David Murphy, who has been to but not in Wrigley. “It’s one of those iconic places like Fenway Park.”

The Cubs own a 4-8 record after dropping three of four against the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants over the weekend. Only three Chicago players – catcher Welington Castillo (.364),  right-fielder Nate Schierholtz (.343) and shortstop Starlin Castro (.315) are hitting above .256. First baseman Anthony Rizzo leads the Cubs in home runs (3) and runs batted in (9).

Carlos Villanueva and Travis Wood have been Chicago’s best starters with a combined four earned runs in 26.1 innings. Former Ranger Scott Feldman has given up 12 runs in two starts and will be skipped this week because of back tightness.

After finishing in Chicago, the Rangers return home for a three-game weekend series with Seattle. The Mariners entered this week with a 6-8 record after splitting with the Rangers. Catcher Kelly Shoppach (.556) and outfielder Raul Ibanez (.300) led Seattle last week.

Joe Saunders (1-1 record, 2.08 earned run average), Hisashi Iwakuma (2-0, 2.18) and Felix Hernandez (1-2, 3.05) have been the top Mariner starting pitchers overall.

Upcoming Schedule
4/16     @Cubs            7:05 p.m.
4/17     @Cubs            7:05 p.m.
4/18     @Cubs            1:20 p.m.
4/19     Mariners          7:05 p.m.
4/20     Mariners          7:05 p.m.
4/21     Mariners          2:05 p.m.