By Mark Miller
Amidst an up-and-down week for the Texas Rangers was the return of one pitcher they have long hoped would be available to help them in the second half of the 2013 season.
Not only did former Kansas City Royals closer Joakim Soria pitch for the first time in 22 months Sunday after recovering from Tommy John surgery, he needed just 11 pitches to set down the Houston Astros in order in the sixth inning. That proved crucial to a 5-4 victory that gave Texas a split of six games last week.
Soria was one of five relievers who one at a time stopped the Astros and allowed the Rangers to win. Joe Nathan, the All-Star closer who picked up his 29th save to end the game, gave the game ball to Soria.
“I flipped him the ball after the game to let him know how big of a deal it was, let him know how cool it was to have him here and hopefully help us in the second half,” Nathan told mlb.com.
Soria follows rookie starter Martin Perez in the return to health of pitchers Rangers management says is crucial to any success the team has the remainder of 2013. Still to come are starter Colby Lewis and starter/relievers Alexi Ogando and Neftali Feliz though rookie Nick Tepesch joined them on the disabled list over the weekend.
Despite the split week, the Rangers remain right where they want to be, just a half-game behind the Oakland A’s in the American League West and holding the No. 1 wild-card spot.
After scoring just two runs each in dropping two games at home to the Seattle Mariners, the Rangers won three of their next four with at least five runs in each game. Texas has a 32-2 record this season when scoring at least five runs.
Adrian Beltre’s two home runs sparked the victory in the finale with the Mariners. Beltre added another blast to go along with a grand slam by Nelson Cruz in the opener with Houston. And a three-run homer by A.J. Pierzynski fueled Texas in the finale.
“It’s what we’re supposed to be doing,” Beltre told mlb.com. “That’s what our plan is to score runs for our pitching staff. Obviously it’s not always going to be the same, but the last couple games have been good. Hopefully we keep it up.”
Orioles, Tigers on tap on the road
An old familiar face greets the Rangers when they start a four-game visit to the Baltimore Orioles. Former Ranger Scott Feldman, acquired last week from the Chicago Cubs, is on the mound for the series opener Monday.
Monday marks the first time the Rangers and Orioles have met since Baltimore ended the 2012 season for Texas with a 5-1 win in the wild-card game at The Ballpark in Arlington. The Orioles are playing well again this season with a 49-40 record entering this week. They are tied with the Tampa Bay Rays for the second wild card, 4.5 games behind the Boston Red Sox in the American League East.
By far the biggest star for Baltimore has been former Ranger first baseman Chris Davis. He leads the major leagues with 33 home runs and ranks second in runs batted in with 85 to go with a .320 batting average. Third baseman Manny Machado is the only other Baltimore regular over .300 at .312.
Two former Rangers have helped anchor the bullpen. Tommy Hunter has a 3-2 record and 2.09 earned run average while Darren O’Day is 5-0, 2.09. Miguel Gonzalez (6-3, 3.63) and Chris Tillman (10-3, 3.92) lead the starters. Jim Johnson tops the majors with 30 saves.
Texas then moves on to Detroit for a weekend set with the Tigers that leads into next week’s All-Star break. Detroit entered this week with a 48-39 record, 2.5 games ahead of the Cleveland Indians in the American League Central division. Defending Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera is on pace to possibly repeat as he leads the majors in hitting (.368) and runs batted in (90) and is second to Davis in home runs (28).
On the mound, Max Scherzer has won his first 13 decisions and is third in all of baseball with 137 strikeouts to go with a 3.09 ERA. While not dominating like in the past, 2011 Cy Young winner Justin Verlander still is 9-5 with a 3.54 ERA.
7/8 @Orioles 6:05 p.m.
7/9 @Orioles 6:05 p.m.
7/10 @Orioles 6:05 p.m.
7/11 @Orioles 6:05 p.m.
7/12 @Tigers 6:08 p.m.
7/13 @Tigers 6:15 p.m.
7/14 @Tigers 12:08 p.m.