ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Texas Rangers defeated the Houston Astros, 5-4 Sunday afternoon at Rangers Ballpark to finish the nine-game homestand with a 5-4 record. Texas kept pace with Oakland and remains a half-game behind the A’s in the AL West.
A crowd of 36,746 was on hand to watch as five Rangers relievers pitched a shutout inning with All-Star Joe Nathan finishing up for his 29th save.
Looking good: Joakim Soria’s long road back to a major league mound was finally completed on Sunday. The Rangers' 29-year-old right-hander worked a 1-2-3 sixth inning, retiring the middle of the Houston order on a pair of ground balls and a fly to left. Soria was making his first major league appearance since Sept. 11, 2011, when he was a member of the Royals. He missed all of the 2012 season after having Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on his right elbow last April. The Rangers' bullpen has shown signs of weariness in this homestand, and the hope is Soria could relieve some of the workload on Tanner Scheppers and Neal Cotts after the All-Star break.
And they‘re off: The Rangers have been notoriously slow starters this season, coming into Sunday’s game scoring just 21 first-inning runs, a major-league worst by eight runs. Texas’ batting average in the first inning is a woeful .204, also the worst in the majors. But A.J. Pierzynski reversed the trend with a three-run home run into the Rangers' bullpen for a 3-0 lead in the first inning. Pierzynski’s blast off Erik Bedard, estimated at 407 feet, followed walks to Elvis Andrus and Nelson Cruz. The rare quick start boded well for the Rangers, 10-0 at home when scoring in the first inning and 14-2 overall. But to illustrate how bad first innings have been, Texas still trails opponents in first-inning runs, 40-24.
Grimm reality: A troubling sign for Rangers starter Justin Grimm Sunday was an inability to hold down Houston in innings immediately after Texas scored. Grimm got a no decision, pitching four innings, allowing six hits and three earned runs. The idea of the so-called shutdown innings is to keep momentum out of the hands of the opponent. But following Texas’ three-run first, Grimm walked the first batter he faced and then was touched for the first career home run by Marc Krauss. After Texas made it 4-2 in the bottom of the third, Carlos Corporan opened the fourth with a single and eventually scored on a two-out base hit by J.D. Martinez.
Cruz control: The No. 3 spot in the batting order continues to agree with Cruz. The right fielder drove in his 67th run of the season with a fifth-inning single, snapping a 4-4 tie. He’s hitting .329 with five doubles and five home runs in his last 18 games. He’s hit No. 3 in the order in 17 games.
Burns returns: Reliever Cory Burns, inspired perhaps by today’s recall from Triple-A Round Rock, made a good second impression. He did not allow a run after inheriting a first and third jam with no outs in the fifth inning. Burns retired Jose Altuve on an infield pop and struck out left-handed hitter Brett Wallace for the second out. Jake Elmore was erased trying to steal on the strikeout. At Round Rock, Burns’ 16 saves ranked fifth in the Pacific Coast League. Burns was acquired from San Diego in the off-season for pitcher Wilfredo Boscan.
Yo Adrian: Ron Washington doesn’t mind giving Adrian Beltre an occasional day off from his duties at third base, but the manager is reluctant to take Beltre’s bat out of the lineup. Especially with Beltre on a hitting tear. Beltre, the designated hitter on Sunday, lined his 18th home run into the left field stands in the third inning to widen the Texas lead to 4-2. In his 10 previous games, Beltre batted .425 with four doubles, three home runs and seven RBI.
Leather excellence: Shortstop Andrus made an outstanding defensive play to open the game, diving to his right to glove Jose Altuve’s grounder. Andrus still had a strong enough arm to get to his feet and throw out Houston’s leadoff man.
Leather lapse: A misfired suicide squeeze play could have helped Grimm get out of the fifth inning with a chance at a win. But with runner Brandon Barnes in no man’s land on the failed squeeze, the Rangers bungled the play. Pierzynski’s throw sailed to the inside on third baseman Jurickson Profar. Profar slapped a tag, but the ball was somewhere in left field. Barnes trotted home with a run and Profar was charged with the second Rangers error of the inning.
Scheduling note: The Rangers makeup game with Arizona, postponed due to field conditions on May 29, has been rescheduled for 6:05 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 1 at Rangers Ballpark.