Stock Report: Bullpen up, offense down

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
8:00
AM CT
ARLINGTON, Texas -- It's Friday and that means we take stock of how various parts of the Texas Rangers have done over the past week.

STOCK UP

Streaking
Bullpen. After a shaky start to the season, the bullpen seems to have jelled into a cohesive group that has fairly defined roles. Alexi Ogando, who struggled in the spring so much that he lost his starting job and began the season poorly, has come around and is looking a little more like the guy who pitched so well in relief a few years ago. Jason Frasor brings a veteran presence. Joakim Soria has closing experience and even pitchers who the club is still figuring out -- such as Pedro Figueroa and Shawn Tolleson -- have improved in the past week. The group has some more confidence.

Kevin Kouzmanoff. So far, he's filled in very well for the injured Adrian Beltre, who can not return until April 25 thanks to a disabled list stint because of his strained left quad. Kouzmanoff has hit safely in every game he has played in a Rangers uniform and has shown a penchant for extra-base hits. Few can defend at third base like Beltre, but Kouzmanoff has done a solid job in the field.

Walk-offs. The Rangers have had four this season and two in this current homestand. Robinson Chirinos was the hero April 11 against Houston, a 1-0 win in 12 innings and Leonys Martin delivered an RBI single in the ninth Wednesday. Both walk-off wins in this homestand occurred in Yu Darvish starts.

Leonys Martin. He did it all during the Mariners series. He played solid defense, delivered a game-winning hit and has become a terrific bunter. The only thing he didn't do was yell loud enough (or low enough) for Shin-Soo Choo to hear him Wednesday on a pop fly to center. Martin is making a difference in the bottom of the order.

STOCK DOWN

Slumping

Hitting with runners in scoring position. It has not been a strong suit for this team, though they were a bit better in those situations Thursday. Still, the team is 11-for-71 (.155) with runners in scoring position in the past eight games.

Offensive catchers. The Rangers aren't getting much offensive production from their catchers. J.P. Arencibia had two RBIs Thursday but neither came on hits. He's hitting .071 on the season and Chirinos is batting .160. That doesn't mean the catchers haven't played well in other facets, but as far as hitting goes, it has not been solid.

Defense. The Rangers lead the AL with 15 errors in 16 games. And in the Seattle series alone they had a few other mistakes that weren't scored errors (but perhaps could have been). This team still isn't as crisp as manager Ron Washington would like it with the gloves or their arms, though middle infielders Josh Wilson and Donnie Murphy have done a good job filling in when out there.

Tanner Scheppers. Big innings have cost Scheppers in three of his four starts and it was a six-run third that ended his afternoon Thursday (the bullpen and offense bailed him out). We'll see if he gets another shot to start when it's his turn in the rotation Tuesday, but he's got to find a way to minimize damage.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington asked outfielder Leonys Martin, the club's No. 8 hitter on Thursday, to sacrifice bunt in the third and fifth with runners and first and second and nobody out. By doing that, it brought up No. 9 hitter J.P. Arencibia, batting all of .083 coming in, in a run-scoring situation in a close game.

You can look at the decision two ways: On the one hand, Arencibia has hit into three ground-ball double plays, and by moving the runners you avoid that possibility. On the other, you send a strong message to Arencibia that everybody, no matter where they are in the lineup or what they're hitting, is trusted to come through in critical junctures.

Arencibia didn't get a hit in either opportunity. But he did hit two ground balls that scored Mitch Moreland each time. The second time was the eventual winning run in an 8-6 Rangers victory.

"Arencibia is a part of this team, and he has to deliver too," manager Ron Washington said. "So I put him in a situation to deliver and he got us two runs, productive outs. Base hits aren't always the key. He had two productive outs today.

"When you're in situations that we were in, we needed Martin to get the bunts down to scratch at least a run. He got two bunts down and we got four runs. Treat the game right and the game treats you right. As far as Arencibia goes, I feel like he can be productive. We just have to keep putting him in those situations and he'll come through. We're a team."

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ARLINGTON, Texas -- The big inning bit Tanner Scheppers again Thursday. The question now is whether Scheppers will start another inning in the rotation.

Scheppers said he isn't worried about whether he'll hang onto his job, and manager Ron Washington indicated the plan -- at least right now -- is for Scheppers to make his next start in Oakland next week.

[+] EnlargeScheppers
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsTanner Scheppers fell victim to the big inning once again Thursday.
"It's nothing that's crossed my mind," Washington said when asked if he was considering moving Scheppers out of the rotation. "We know it's a work in progress. "

The Rangers staked Scheppers to a 4-0 lead and he couldn't hold it. Back-to-back home runs by Robinson Cano (his first with the Mariners) and Corey Hart tied the score in what ended up as a six-run third inning in the Rangers' 8-6 victory. Scheppers retired just one of the seven batters he faced in the third inning. Hector Noesi gave up a double to score the final two runs on Scheppers' ledger. Scheppers was finished after 66 pitches, but the Rangers' bats and the bullpen bailed him out.

"Those were not good pitches," Scheppers said. "They capitalized on it. They are good hitters and they are going to hit mistakes. Sometimes you get beat and you've got to tip your cap and focus on the next one and continuing working."

In three of Scheppers' four starts, one inning has cost him. He allowed a six-run inning on Opening Day, the five-run fourth against Houston in his last start and a six-run third Thursday. So 17 of the 20 runs that Scheppers has allowed this season have come in three innings.

Scheppers' next turn in the rotation comes Tuesday in Oakland, the middle game of that three-game series. It's likely the Rangers will look at their options, and if they decide to make a change, Nick Martinez is the logical choice. He pitches tonight for Double-A Frisco, and assuming he has no issues, he'd be on schedule to pitch in Scheppers' spot Tuesday. Martinez made his big league debut in Tampa Bay and allowed three runs on four hits in six innings with three strikeouts, three walks and two homers. It was a solid debut with family watching, though the Rangers lost the game, 5-4. Nick Tepesch and Scott Baker are in Triple-A as possible options.

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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Kevin Kouzmanoff delivered again, doubling twice and scoring two runs as the Texas Rangers beat Seattle Mariners 8-6 Thursday.

Texas lost the opener of the four-game series on Monday night, but won the last three.

The 32-year-old Kouzmanoff is hitting .414 since joining the Rangers on April 9 after starting third baseman Adrian Beltre strained his left quadriceps.

Kouzmanoff has hit in all eight games in which he has played, beginning with a pinch-hitting appearance followed by seven straight starts. Beltre was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Sunday.

Robinson Cano homered for the Mariners. He's in a 3-for-18 slump.


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Rapid Reaction: Rangers 8, Mariners 6

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
4:35
PM CT
ARLINGTON, Texas -- It was a strange day at Globe Life Park as neither starting pitcher could do much of anything. The Rangers had a 4-0 lead, lost it and then managed to snag the advantage back in the fifth and hang on for an 8-6 victory. Texas takes three out of four from the Mariners in the process and has won three straight games for the first time since the last week of the regular season in 2013, when they won seven straight to force Game 163. It's also the first time this season the Rangers have been two games above .500. Some thoughts:

Big inning hurts Scheppers (again): Tanner Scheppers couldn't get through the third inning Thursday. After talking about the need to minimize damage when a five-run inning hurt him in his last start, Scheppers wasn't able to do it. Staked to a 4-0 lead, he gave it all back in two swings -- consecutive home runs from Robinson Cano (his first with the Mariners this season) and Corey Hart. Scheppers ended up allowing six runs (two scored with Hector Noesi on the mound) on six hits in his outing with three walks and two strikeouts. He's allowed 20 runs this season and 17 of those have come in three big innings -- two six-run innings and a five-run inning.

First-inning runs: The Rangers came into Thursday's game with three first-inning runs all season. They scored three with two outs to give Scheppers the lead. After an Elvis Andrus double, Alex Rios struck out for the second out. The Mariners walked Prince Fielder intentionally to pitch to the red-hot Kevin Kouzmanoff. It didn't work. Kouzmanoff doubled to drive home the first run. Mitch Moreland then delivered a two-out, two-run single to center to make it 3-0.

Two-strike hits: All four runs scored in the first two innings by the Rangers came on two-strike counts. Texas came into the game batting .208 in those situations, good enough for third in the AL (two teams have .209 averages). The Rangers increased that average Thursday and did it early. The most impressive at-bat came from Kouzmanoff, who fell behind 0-2, worked it back to 2-2 and hit the eighth pitch for a double. The Rangers also had a two-strike bunt by Leonys Martin in the third that helped score a run when J.P. Arencibia grounded out to the left side of the infield, scoring Moreland.

Kouzmanoff hot: The Rangers' fill-in third baseman just continues to hit, increasing his streak of hitting safely to eight games (that's all that he's played in a Rangers uniform). Kouzmanoff hit doubles in his first two at-bats and has three multi-hit games since getting called up. The Mariners walked Fielder twice to pitch to Kouzmanoff. It didn't work in the first, but it did in the seventh.

Fielder can't cash in: The slugger got two chances with runners in scoring position Thursday and wasn't able to convert. The struggling slugger is now 2-for-19 with runners in scoring position this season. One of those chances came with the count already at two strikes. Rios, who has vowed to stay aggressive on the bases even with Fielder hitting behind him, stole second base and went to third on an errant throw by catcher John Buck.

Relief respect: The Rangers bullpen pitched 6 2/3 innings Thursday and didn't allow a run. Hector Noesi gave up some hard hits, but both of the runs he gave up were inherited runners charged to Scheppers. Pedro Figueroa, Jason Frasor, Alexi Ogando and Joakim Soria got the job done.

Small ball: Martin was asked to put down sacrifice bunts twice Thursday with runners at first and second. He converted both times, and Arencibia, behind him, hit ground balls to score a run in each frame. The bunt eliminated the chance at a double play and Arencibia did what he had to by hitting the ball on the ground. The average won't be helped, but the catcher did his job in those situations.

Up next: The Chicago White Sox come to town with LHP Martin Perez (2-0, 2.70 ERA) opposing RHP Felipe Paulino (0-1, 7.98 ERA) at 7:05 p.m. on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM and TXA21.

Join us for a live in-game chat today

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
12:30
PM CT
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners get going at 1:05 p.m. today and we'll be chatting about it during the game.

The room will be open here on the blog and on ESPNDallas.com at 12:30 p.m., so join us during your work day.

It's the final game of the series between these two teams before the Rangers welcome the Chicago White Sox to town.

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Texas Rangers starter Matt Harrison is scheduled to throw six innings or 95 pitches Saturday in a rehab start, and that likely won't be his last. General manager Jon Daniels said Harrison will probably need another one or two starts before returning to the Rangers. The club has a 30-day window for Harrison to rehab before they have to make a decision on activating him in early May.

Harrison and the Rangers had originally targeted April 23 or 24 for a return, but weather issues hampered Harrison's progress. He lasted just 3 1/3 innings in his last rehab start and is looking for better results this time.

"I've got to get more than 3 1/3 innings," Harrison said. "It's been rainouts and delays and more rain. I know you're supposed to ignore that stuff, but it's difficult when you're sat around a hotel for two days and haven't been able to go outside and then you pitch. I've got to stay healthy and be more aggressive."

Soto still recovering: Catcher Geovany Soto was in the clubhouse Wednesday wearing a brace on his right knee as he continues to heal from surgery to repair a torn meniscus.

Soto said he expects to have the brace on until mid-May and isn't sure what the rehab process is after that, but he believes that he likely won't return to the big leagues until July. Daniels said there isn't a firm timetable for Soto's return but that he's still hopeful for some point in July.

"Basically, I'm just being patient," Soto said. "Mentally, it's tough. You come to the park and cheer on your teammates, but it's tough because I can't be out there helping them win."

Briefly: Derek Holland continues to progress and Daniels said he's probably even ahead of schedule. But he's yet to take any PFP or work on his lateral movement. He continues to build up arm strength with bullpen sessions.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- One bad inning did in Tanner Scheppers on Saturday. He gave up all five of his runs in the fourth inning during a 6-5 loss to the Houston Astros.

Scheppers ended up going seven innings and collected a career-high six strikeouts with one walk. But that one inning cost him dearly.

"I want to go out there, attack with my fastball and go from there," Scheppers said. "I think at the end of the day, I've got to keep my faith in my ability, go out there and use my strengths, keep the ball on the ground and have the offense score some runs."

Scheppers wants to take the positives from his last outing and apply them, but the reliever-turned-starter knows he also has to get results. He's learning about making the adjustments from the bullpen to the rotation.

"Your mistakes are under a microscope," Scheppers said. "You make a mistake and they take advantage of it and it can hurt you. It's about minimizing those mistakes, keeping the game slow and focusing on each pitch."

Rangers manager Ron Washington sees a pitcher who is getting closer to putting it all together.

"He has to minimize the damage," Washington said of Scheppers' rough inning. "He's getting better. It's a learning experience for him. He's used to coming in, going one inning, rushing through it and leaving everything out there. Now he's going through a lineup three or four times.

"You expect an inning to get away. But if it gets away you hope it's two runs, not five."

Rios will stay aggressive: Outfielder Alex Rios said he's going to continue to be assertive on the bases, even with Prince Fielder hitting behind him. Rios was at first base Tuesday with Fielder up and tried to steal second and was thrown out, eliminating Fielder's chance to try to move him around the bases.

"I'm not going to quit being aggressive on the bases," Rios said. "I'm going to do what I can do to advance and make it easier for him with me in scoring position. I thought I had a good jump, but he had a good pitch to throw me out. I had a great chance, but it was a good throw."

The pitch was up and away, almost like a pitchout, and catcher Mike Zunino made a great throw. Zunino also got Elvis Andrus trying to steal.

"That Zunino kid can throw. I've read stuff about him and now I'm seeing it," Washington said. "Maybe we need to stop trying to run on him."

Bullpen improving: It was a rocky first nine games for the Rangers bullpen. Neal Cotts and Alexi Ogando struggled and the relievers as a group put up a 6.21 ERA in those first nine games. Opponents were hitting .288 against them. But things have improved dramatically since then.

In the six games of this homestand, the bullpen has a 0.60 ERA (one earned run in 15 innings) and opponents are hitting .208. Cotts has pitched better recently, and Ogando earned his first save since 2012 Sunday against Houston. And Pedro Figueroa came in and got a 1-2-3 eighth inning Wednesday, keeping it a two-run game before the Rangers were able to come back.

"What's expected of them is starting to fall in place a little better," Washington said. "The main guys are starting to put it together."

Washington has been pleased with Shawn Tolleson, who is one of the secondary pieces in the bullpen. Tolleson has allowed one run in his 5 2/3 innings of work and it came in his debut on Opening Day.

"I'm still feeling him out," Washington said. "When the bullpen is down, we'll need one of those guys in a big situation. As long as Cotts, [Jason] Frasor, Ogando and [Joakim] Soria are available, they'll get it. When they're not, he'll get a chance to fill in. My first impression has been favorable since spring training. He's got pitches. He's got a split, changeup, doesn't throw the ball down the middle of the plate and has an idea of what he's doing."
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Manager Ron Washington isn't much into karma when it comes to baseball. And he's not all that interested in discussing luck.

But he does like to talk about how teams that consistently do what the game asks them to do often get rewarded in unexpected ways, like walk-off wins.

The Texas Rangers did it again Wednesday night against the Seattle Mariners. They did it on a night when Felix Hernandez was sensational and Yu Darvish showed an ability to grind through seven innings.

They did it on yet another night when the offense struggled. And they did it against closer Fernando Rodney, who had not allowed a run this season.

Oh, and the Rangers started their winning rally after Alex Rios and Prince Fielder started the ninth inning with outs.

Wow.

Texas 3, Seattle 2.

That's four walk-off wins for the Rangers in their first 15 games of the season. No team in Major League Baseball has more.

"It was a tremendous win. That's why you play nine innings," Washington said. "Those kinds of wins build character. When you have a new group, this helps them learn how to hang together and play until the third out is made. We pulled it out tonight.

"You just play nine innings and good things usually happen. I wish it was that simple and it was karma and you could just make it happen. Tonight, we made it happen.


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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Yu Darvish did not have his impressive stuff on Wednesday, but it was still his most impressive start of 2014.

Yeah, that might seem odd considering he was coming off eight shutout innings of one-hit ball against the Houston Astros last week. But Darvish did what aces must do when things aren't going exactly right: He grinded and kept his team in the game.

Darvish's fastball command wasn't good. His slider wasn't as dominant as usual. He seemed out of sync early, as the Mariners came in with a good game plan. They knew Darvish was getting ahead in counts with first-pitch fastballs and decided to attack it. The result was a triple by Nick Franklin with one out in the second inning, igniting just enough Seattle offense. Darvish walked Dustin Ackley with two outs -- probably his worst at-bat of the game -- then gave up consecutive singles to fall behind 2-0.

At that point, Darvish knew he needed to alter his approach if he was to pitch deep into the game.

"I had to have really good communication with [catcher Robinson] Chirinos during the game," Darvish said through an interpreter. "We both knew they were trying to hack early. He was calling a lot of fastballs and sliders, so we talked and I told him that I have other pitches, as well.

"After that, we were able to get on the same page and throw a lot of effective breaking balls on the first pitch."

Darvish utilized his curve, change and splitter more for the rest of the game. And despite some long at-bats and a couple of walks, he got through seven innings in 107 pitches.

With Felix Hernandez hypnotizing the Rangers' offense, Darvish had to find a way to minimize damage and not let the game get away from him. He did exactly that.

It's easy to stay in a rhythm and come out with great numbers when most of what you're throwing is working -- and that's most of the time for Darvish. But that wasn't the case on Wednesday, and he still gave his team seven innings and a quality start.

What he didn't get were runs. Darvish has now pitched 22 innings this season and has zero runs of support.

"It's not like I'm able to go to the batter's box and hit, but I have a lot of respect for my teammates," Darvish said. "It is what it is. Sometimes there are days like this."

That's especially true when Felix Hernandez is on the mound. And he had his top-shelf stuff working on Wednesday. While Darvish's fastball command was wonky, Hernandez was spotting everything where he wanted and using that devastating changeup to get plenty of swings and misses. Hernandez had nine strikeouts and just one walk and made a surprisingly early exit after a leadoff triple in the eighth. It was the hardest hit ball the Rangers had all day off him (by Leonys Martin, later the hero in the ninth) and manager Lloyd McClendon decided to bring in lefty Charlie Furbush. Pinch hitter Michael Choice hit a sac fly to get the Rangers within one.

Darvish seemed destined to pick up the loss until the Rangers resiliency kicked in. A two-out single by Kevin Kouzmanoff, a walk by Mitch Moreland (who never attempted to swing during the at-bat) and an error by Mariners shortstop Brad Miller loaded the bases. Then a wild pitch and a single by Martin gave the Rangers the unlikely walk-off win.

They aren't in position to produce the heroics without Darvish hanging in despite not having his Grade A repertoire. That's what made Wednesday his best start of the season.

Each win stranger for Rangers

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
11:44
PM CT
The Texas Rangers are living a charmed life in the early part of the 2014 season.

They’re 8-7 this season despite being outscored by nine runs, and they’ve already managed a majors-best four walk-off wins, the latest being a bizarre 3-2 victory over the Seattle Mariners.

The game lived up to its billing as a great pitcher’s duel between aces Yu Darvish and Felix Hernandez.

The Mariners lost on a combination of mishaps, the first being the inability of Brad Miller to convert a potential forceout for the final out of the game. Miller entered the day with solid defensive numbers -- three defensive runs saved for the season.

The next was a wild pitch by closer Fernando Rodney, who has averaged a wild pitch about every 19 innings for his career. His wild pitch Wednesday allowed the tying run to score.

Leonys Martin then won the game with his third walk-off hit in the past eight months, a bloop single to left field that gave reliever Pedro Figueroa his first big league win.

The Rangers went from having two outs and nobody on, a situation in which their win probability was about 4 percent, to an unlikely victory.

The Rangers continue to win despite not hitting home runs. They entered the day with only seven, which ranked 14th in the American League, and did not add to that total on Wednesday.

For the Mariners, it was another in a long line of wasted starts by their starting pitchers.

Last season, they lost 12 games in which a starter went at least seven innings and allowed one run or fewer (the most in the majors since the 1986 Montreal Expos lost 13). It was their first such defeat in 2014.

Hernandez has now made 17 starts in the last five seasons in which he went at least seven innings and allowed one run or fewer. That’s the most in the majors in that span. Ex-Mariner Cliff Lee kept pace with his 13th on Wednesday for the Philadelphia Phillies, tying him with Jered Weaver for the second-most such starts.

Elias Sports Bureau Stat of the Day
The Rangers are the first team with four walk-off wins by April 16 since the 2000 Kansas City Royals.

Running diary: King Felix vs. Darvish

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
11:18
PM CT
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We don’t see these matchups as often you may expect, ace versus ace, best in the game versus best in the game. For the third time in their careers, Felix Hernandez faced Yu Darvish. The first two battles, both in 2012, went to King Felix: He allowed one run in eight innings and then pitched a three-hit, 12-strikeout gem, as Darvish struggled in both outings.

Let's follow along with a running diary of the Texas Rangers’ 3-2 victory over the Seattle Mariners.

First inning

You certainly have to expect a low-scoring game. Darvish hasn’t allowed a run in his first two starts and faces a Seattle lineup that has been shut out in three of its past six games. Hernandez has allowed six runs in his three starts with an impressive 30-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

[+] EnlargeYu Darvish
AP Photo/Brandon Wade
I don’t know if there’s such a thing as a perfect pitcher’s build, but if I could sculpt a pitcher out of Italian marble, he would look like Darvish -- tall and lean with a regal appearance, his uniform tailored perfectly. It’s a small data sample, but Darvish may be making one major change to his approach from last season, throwing more four-seam fastballs and fewer cutters. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Darvish threw 35 percent fastballs last year and 16 percent cutters. Through his first two starts, those numbers were 61 and 4. This makes sense; the cutter was his weakest pitch last year as opponents hit .271/.357/.500 against it. If he can command the four-seamer, he can ditch the cutter considering he still has his slider and curveball as wipeout pitches (plus an occasional splitter and even a big slow curve).

After a scoreless top of the inning, Hernandez takes the mound, top two buttons undone, pants legs down over the top of his shoelaces, his upper lip unshaven and a scraggly fluff of hair sprouting from his chin. Hernandez’s best weapon has been his changeup; batters are 2-for-27 against it with 18 strikeouts. It has been so good that he’s thrown it 28 percent of the time, up from 19 percent in 2013.

* * * *

Sandy Koufax and Juan Marichal faced each other just four times, which seems odd to me. Marichal and Koufax were both starters from 1961 to 1966 and the Dodgers and Giants played each other 18 times a season back then, so you’d think they would have matched up more often. You’d maybe even expect the managers to purposely arrange their rotations for their aces to square off. Koufax pitched 26 times against the Giants over those six seasons and Marichal faced the Dodgers 30 times (remarkably, he never allowed more than four runs in those starts), so odds were they should have faced each other a few more times.

In the four games they did pitch against each other, Marichal didn’t even get an official plate appearance in two of them. Once, Koufax got knocked out in the first inning before Marichal hit. Another game -- the last time the two started against each other -- was Aug. 22, 1965, the infamous game when Marichal attacked Dodgers catcher Johnny Roseboro.

Koufax faced Bob Gibson five times, and they had some great duels. Twice, Koufax beat Gibson 1-0. He pitched a third shutout in another game.

Second inning

Nick Franklin, just called up from Tacoma, lines a first-pitch cutter into right-center for a one-out triple. Darvish strikes out Justin Smoak on a 1-2 fastball out of the strike zone but then works carefully to Dustin Ackley, walking him to face the right-handed Mike Zunino. Darvish starts out with a 94-mph fastball that Zunino takes for a strike, but the 0-1 pitch is a hanging slider in the middle of the plate and Zunino lines a soft single to center. Right pitch, bad execution. Abraham Almonte then plates Ackley, lining a 1-1 fastball into left field to make it 2-0.

Fourth inning

While Hernandez is sailing along through three innings (he started eight of the first nine batters with strikes), Darvish finds himself in a jam, thanks to some shaky defense. Justin Smoak singles past the statuesque Prince Fielder and then Zunino reaches when outfielders Leonys Martin and Shin-Soo Choo miscommunicate on a fly ball. Almonte strikes out. Brad Miller gets ahead in the count 2-1, Darvish gets a gift call on a 2-1 curve that looks outside and then appears to strike out Miller on a good heater on the inside corner. But plate ump Ted Barrett calls it a ball to the displeasure of Darvish. The 3-2 pitch is a slider that Miller sends routinely to right field.

* * * *

Roger Clemens reached the majors in 1984, Randy Johnson in 1988. They were both in the American League through 1998 and in the National League in 2004, but they faced each other only twice, in 1992 and 1994. Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez started just three times against each other, once in 1994 and twice in 1995, during Maddux’s apex. He tossed shutouts in two of those games.

According to research by RetroSheet researcher Tom Ruane, the two pitchers who faced off most often in their careers were Jim McCormick and Mickey Welch, who battled 40 times between 1880 and 1887. Since 1900, the most common matchup was between Hall of Famers Christy Mathewson and Three-Finger Brown, with 23. Brown’s Cubs beat Mathewson’s Giants 12 times to 11. Since World War II, it’s Warren Spahn and Bob Friend, with 21 games.

Two other Hall of Famers who pitched regularly against each other were Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton, with 17 duels between 1970 and 1983. And duel they did. On Sept. 24, 1972 -- the year Carlton went 27-10 with an awful Phillies team -- Seaver beat Carlton 2-1, the game decided in the eighth on an unearned run. On Opening Day 1973, Seaver won 3-0 with 7 2/3 scoreless innings. On Opening Day 1975, Seaver beat him 2-1, the winning scoring in the bottom of the ninth. In September of 1976, Seaver won 1-0 with a four-hit shutout.

If you’re getting the idea that Seaver had Carlton’s number, it’s kind of true. Or he had the Phillies’ number. The first nine times they faced each other, Seaver went 8-0 with a no-decision. Carlton always pitched well, but Seaver seemed to bring his best stuff. Carlton did finally beat him three times, but overall Seaver went 11-3 with a 2.74 ERA while Carlton went 3-12 with a 2.77 ERA (Seaver had two blow-up starts that raised his ERA). The last time they met was Opening Day 1983. Seaver had returned to the Mets after his exile to Cincinnati, where he had gone 5-13 with a 5.50 ERA in 1982. But the game was at Shea Stadium. Of course Seaver had to start. He tossed six scoreless innings. The Mets won 2-0.

Sixth inning

Darvish has settled down after some early issues with baserunners but he also ran up his pitch count. Meanwhile, the King is dealing, with eight strikeouts and three hits through six. While Darvish has thrown 98 pitches through six, Felix is at 79 (55 for strikes).

If you want a good lesson on what makes Hernandez so good -- and especially so good early on this year -- is that he can throw all four of his pitches on any count. So what has Hernandez done Wednesday night? All eight of his strikeouts have come on fastballs, at least according to MLB.com -- five four-seamers and three two-seamers. The guy is amazing.

(The MLB GameDay system I’m checking could be misidentifying some of his changeups as two-seam sinkers -- you know, because who else throws a changeup that’s only a couple miles per hour slower than his fastball. Readers on Twitter say several of the strikeouts were changeups, which is probably the case. We'll see what the data says after the game.)

Seventh inning

In what’s probably his final inning, Darvish cruises with a 1-2-3 frame, including his eighth strikeout. Solid effort for Darvish on a night he didn’t appear to have his A stuff. The one pitch he’d like to have back was that slider to Zunino.

Hernandez racks up his ninth strikeout, getting Kevin Kouzmanoff on another fastball, although at 88 mph it may have been another changeup.

Eighth inning

Darvish is done, and so is Hernandez after giving up a leadoff triple to Martin. I’m a little surprised at the hook since Hernandez is only at 96 pitches and has kept the Rangers off-balance all night. Felix did not look too happy when Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon took the ball from him, that’s for sure. You know this is the kind of game he at least wants to get the ball into the hands of closer Fernando Rodney.

The Rangers score a run on a sacrifice fly but Charlie Furbush and Yoervis Medina escape without further damage.

* * * *

In 1959, Lew Burdette and Robin Roberts faced off seven times, the last time two pitchers started that many times against each other in one season. Only one of them was much of a deal, Roberts winning 2-1 on July 4 as he scattered eight hits in a complete game. Another fun piece of data from Tom Ruane: Babe Ruth faced Walter Johnson five times in 1916. There were just 18 runs scored in those five games. How would you like to find a time machine and go watch one those matchups?

Ninth inning

Stop reading, Mariners fans. Rodney on for the save. Two quick outs. Kouzmanoff with a grounder to Miller's left that he dives for but can't corral it. He was shaded way in the hole and had a long ways to go, so it was not an easy play. Rodney falls behind Mitch Moreland with two balls, sending McClendon out to the mound (probably telling him to be careful with Moreland since light-hitting Josh Wilson is on deck). Moreland walks on a 3-2 pitch. Donnie Murphy bats for Wilson and hits a routine grounder right to Miller, who tosses the ball high to Robinson Cano at second base, pulling him off the bag. Everybody safe. Wild pitch. Game tied. Martin with a soft single to left. Game over.

What can I say? In what should have been a final sentence exclaiming the brilliance of Felix Hernandez we're instead left saying poor Felix.

Rangers rally for two in 9th to beat Mariners

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
10:14
PM CT
video

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Leonys Martin had a game-winning RBI single in the ninth inning as the Texas Rangers scored two unearned runs in a two-out rally against Fernando Rodney, beating the Seattle Mariners 3-2 on Wednesday night in a game that started as a battle of aces.

Rodney (0-1) retired the first two in the ninth before Kevin Kouzmanoff's single that ricocheted off the glove of sliding shortstop Brad Miller and dribbled into the outfield. Mitch Moreland drew a walk before Josh Wilson's grounder was fielded by Miller, whose toss to second base was high and allowed Moreland to slide in safely.

Martin had the winner after Rodney's wild pitch allowed the tying run to score.

Mariners ace Felix Hernandez struck out nine and had retired 10 in a row before Martin's leadoff triple in the eighth ended the big right-hander's night. Yu Darvish struck out eight in seven innings for the Rangers.


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Rapid Reaction: Rangers 3, Mariners 2

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
9:59
PM CT
video

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Leonys Martin's single ended a wild ninth inning as the Texas Rangers earned their fourth walk-off win at home this season, 3-2 over the Seattle Mariners. Texas did all the damage with two outs. Kevin Kouzmanoff singled, Mitch Moreland walked and then the Rangers got some help. Donnie Murphy's ground ball to short should have ended the inning, but the flip to second was high. The error kept the inning going and loaded the bases for Martin. A wild pitch scored the tying run, and then, Martin's single to left ended it. A few quick thoughts:

Pitch counts: It seems to be a topic of conversation every time Yu Darvish pitches, but the 27-year-old ace threw 107 pitches in seven innings Wednesday -- an average of 15.2 per inning. He came into the game No. 2 in the AL in pitches per inning at 12.7, nearly four fewer pitches per inning than his average last season. Darvish had two full counts in a 19-pitch first inning and didn't get much more efficient from there. Darvish adjusted by throwing more breaking pitches earlier in the count for strikes, but his command of his fastball and slider was not as good as it was in his first two starts.

Ambushing the fastball: Knowing that Darvish was getting ahead on hitters with first-pitch strikes in his first two starts, the Mariners came in with the idea of swinging at first-pitch fastballs and got a triple off one from Nick Franklin with one out in the second inning to get Seattle in position to score. A single by Mike Zunino plated Franklin. Darvish also walked Dustin Ackley with two outs, and that proved costly, as Abraham Almonte's single brought home Ackley to make it 2-0.

Where's the run support?: Darvish has pitched 22 innings this season, and his offense has yet to score a run for him. Not one. Blame Felix Hernandez for that Wednesday, but it's been like that all season. Darvish has no margin for error. On Wednesday, the Rangers managed just four hits and were 0-for-2 with runners in scoring position while Darvish was on the mound.

Defensive issues: In the two-run second for the Mariners, Shin-Soo Choo charged Almonte's single but seemed to hesitate before throwing home. His throw home was off target and went to the backstop, allowing a runner to advance. A few innings later, Martin and Choo had a communication issue, and what should have been a routine fly-ball out glanced off Martin's glove and hit the ground. It was scored a hit but was another mistake by the defense. Texas has 15 errors in 15 games this season, which leads the AL, but the Rangers have made other miscues that haven't been called errors.

Hernandez dazzles: It sure looked like the Cy Young version of Hernandez on the mound Wednesday. He allowed one run (in the eighth) on four hits with a walk and nine strikeouts. He was lifted after just 96 pitches following Martin's leadoff triple in the eighth. Martin scored on Michael Choice's sacrifice fly. Hernandez threw first-pitch strikes to 22 of the 26 batters he faced. In three career meetings against Darvish (the other two in 2012), Hernandez is 3-0 and has a 0.75 ERA in 24 innings pitched with 28 strikeouts and three walks. Darvish didn't have his best stuff but hung in for seven innings, allowing two runs.

Briefly: Kouzmanoff's ninth-inning single kept his hitting streak alive. He's hit in all seven games he's played for the Rangers. ... Moreland's first walk of the season came against Hernandez in the fourth. He also walked with two outs in the ninth off Fernando Rodney.

Up next: Right-handed pitcher Tanner Scheppers (0-1, 7.88 ERA) goes up against righty Erasmo Ramirez (1-2, 5.63 ERA) at 1:05 p.m. on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM and Fox Sports Southwest.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Texas Rangers starter Joe Saunders still isn't ready to return to action and it's unclear when he might return. Saunders attempted to throw a bullpen session Wednesday but had to cut it short after experiencing more pain in his left ankle.

Saunders will take a few days off and then reassess. An MRI didn't show any structural issues, but did show a bone bruise.

Saunders made one start for the Rangers, giving up five runs (four earned) on six hits in 3 2/3 innings against the Tampa Bay Rays. A ground ball by Evan Longoria hit Saunders in the left ankle and contributed to the shortened start.

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Elvis Andrus
BA HR RBI R
.302 1 3 9
OTHER LEADERS
HRE. Andrus 1
RBIA. Rios 7
RE. Andrus 9
OPSS. Choo .830
WP. Figueroa 2
ERAY. Darvish 0.82
SOY. Darvish 23