ARLINGTON, Texas -- For a bullpen whose most identifiable trait this season is inconsistency, putting together three strong final innings in a close game was an important step forward.
Starter Matt Harrison managed to scatter 11 hits and left the game with a runner on first and no outs in the seventh and the Rangers down, 2-1. In trotted Tommy Hunter for his first late-inning relief appearance of 2011. Hunter was called up with the idea that he could be versatile in the bullpen, but the club wants to see if he could be another hard-throwing right-handed reliever in the seventh or eighth inning.
Facing right-handed hitters Adam Jones and Vladimir Guerrero, Hunter threw nothing but cutters. The pitch, hitting between 90 to 92 mph on the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington radar gun, was effective, inducing two ground balls needed to get out of the inning. When the Rangers took the lead in the bottom half, Hunter had a win. The pitcher is adjusting to his new role in relief.
"If they give me the ball, I'm going to go out and give them what I have," Hunter said. "I wouldn't say I'm comfortable yet. That's something that comes with time and getting used to the situation and how you react and how you feel. I had some nerves going. I knew I had to keep it going. The more times I get a chance to get out there in situations where the game is close, the more comfortable I can get."
Chances are good he'll get more opportunities after his performance on Tuesday.
Despite throwing just seven pitches (six of them strikes), Hunter was out after the seventh and Mark Lowe came into the game. Manager Ron Washington said he wanted Lowe in the game because "the eighth inning is his inning." Washington knows he'll need these pitchers in the second half and needs to keep running them out there in the pressure situations.
Lowe produced, getting through the eighth with one single allowed. Lowe threw a 98 mph fastball down and in to Mark Reynolds that was one of his better pitches in any recent outing. Lowe is locating his fastball better, making his breaking and off-speed stuff more effective.
The ninth was, of course, Neftali Feliz time. And it was the flame-throwing Feliz who came out for that inning. He hit 100 mph twice to his first batter, pinch-hitter Blake Davis. And didn't mess around, throwing fastballs by the three hitters he faced.
Add it up and it was three scoreless relief innings to preserve a 4-2 win. Maybe it's the confidence boost an inconsistent bullpen needs.