Alexi Ogando motivated by Yu Darvish's start
HOUSTON -- There wasn't a day-after celebration of Yu Darvish's near-miss perfect game Wednesday afternoon. Just more strikeouts -- a lot of them -- for Rangers pitchers.
Five Rangers took the ball against Houston and all of them drew off of Darvish's spectacular effort Tuesday night, adding to a record-breaking strikeout haul in the first three games of the season.
|The excitement of Yu Darvish's near-perfect game has Rangers fans brimming with hope. Play-by-play voice Steve Busby talks about Yu's outstanding effort. |
Four relievers combined for five more strikeouts as the Rangers set the major league record for most strikeouts in the first three games of the season with 43. That was one more than the 1966 Cleveland Indians.
Darvish came within an out of a perfect game Tuesday night and a trip into the record books. Ogando, back in the rotation after a year in the bullpen, said that gave him a path to follow Wednesday.
"It was a spectacular game," Ogando said. "It really motivated me to pitch strong today."
Ogando gave up a double to the first hitter he faced, so he didn't threaten to have a night like Darvish's. The no-hit bid was out of the way. But it was the first of two crucial innings for Ogando. The Astros, who didn't score in the final 18 innings of the series, had their best opportunity to scratch out a run in the bottom of the first. Brett Wallace grounded out to second base, moving Jose Altuve to third with one out and setting up a chance to score if veteran Carlos Pena could put a ball in play.
Ogando got ahead of the free-swinging Pena with a slider, then reached back for a little extra on a fastball for a key strikeout. He fanned Chris Carter on three pitches to end the inning.
Ogando said he wasn't trying to get strikeouts in the inning. They just happened.
"I just focused on throwing quality pitches," Ogando said. "I managed to strike them out. I was able to execute my pitches and I had pretty good results."
Ogando needed a Ron Washington pep talk -- they type Washington has reserved for Derek Holland in the past -- to get through the third inning. Washington usually saves trips to the mound for pitching coach Mike Maddux unless he is making a change. But after No. 9 hitter Ronny Cedeno had a one-out single, moved to second on a walk and Wallace drew a two-out walk, Ogando had already made the inning worse.
Then when Ogando fell behind Pena with two straight balls, the manager felt like he needed to deliver a special message. Wallace and Pena had combined for 11 strikeouts in 16 at-bats before Ogando walked Wallace. Not tolerable.
"I went out there and let him know he has one of the best defenses in baseball behind him," Washington said. "And if these guys are going to make a charge at him, let them make a charge at him swinging the bats."
Darvish threw one pitch -- a 93-mph fastball located where he wanted it -- and Pena rolled it over to second base for the third out. They say a trip to the mound is only successful if it brings positive results. This one worked.
Washington said he won't do it a lot, but ...
"Only when I feel like there is something that I need to say," Washington said. "I'm no miracle worker. I just felt like there was something I had to say."
Ogando went on to retire nine hitters in a row, holding the Astros at bay as the Rangers held onto a 1-0 lead. He turned the game over to the bullpen in the seventh inning.
With a runner on first base, Robbie Ross got a ground ball for the second out, moving Houston's Justin Maxwell up to second base. Washington played the matchup game, bringing in right-hander Tanner Scheppers to face Matt Dominguez. Scheppers threw a sinker and was able to induce a popup to second base.
It was the first big moment for the Rangers' new-look bullpen and the Ross-Scheppers combination. It made an impression on designated hitter Lance Berkman.
"Looks good to me," Berkman said. "We knew coming in that we had some guys who have terrific stuff, and you saw that. Even with Tanner coming in and he throws 96-mph sinkers; it was a good start for everybody."
Berkman had a clutch hit in the top of the eighth, ripping a double to the left-center field gap to score Elvis Andrus from first base for a 2-0 lead. The Rangers added two more runs in the inning for a 4-0 lead.
That meant Joe Nathan time -- after Michael Kirkman had two strikeouts in the bottom of the eighth -- and even though it wasn't a save situation, it was important to get the closer into the game after four days without pitching.
Nathan did OK, you might say, fanning all three batters he faced in the ninth inning to set the record and finish off a historic three days of strikeouts.
Not everyone can do what Darvish does, with his array of pitches, Nathan said. But with a tone-setter like the Japanese ace, it can start a trend. And sometimes the strikeouts come with it.
"When you see him do it, it's something he does on a regular basis, so you just don't want to think because he's doing it that everyone can do it," Nathan said. "This series we were able to take advantage of some aggressive (batters). More importantly, like we said, we're trying to get outs. If they're going to be aggressive, try and start them off with something other than a fastball. If we can get out of the zone to get them out, even better."
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