Martinez arrives for Rangers

Nick Martinez allowed three runs in his six-inning major league debut but got no decision. Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- It was a complete reversal from Friday night, when the Texas Rangers couldn't generate offense, were sloppy in the field and were a mess on the basepaths.

Facing 2012 American League Cy Young winner David Price on Saturday night, the Rangers quickly gave 23-year-old Nick Martinez a 2-0 lead with aggressive running and timely hitting.

They also backed Martinez with stellar defense, making one spectacular play after another to keep the Rays at bay, if relatively.

And Martinez, pitching in front of 50 family members and friends in attendance at Tropicana Field, responded with six quality innings in which the Miami native gave up three runs on four hits while striking out three and walking three.

It was exactly what the Rangers needed after none of their starters had lasted longer than 5 2/3 innings in four previous games this season.

Unfortunately, a chance for a victory for Martinez and Texas disappeared in the eighth, when Neal Cotts gave up the tying and eventual winning runs in a 5-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.

"It just didn't work out," Rangers manager Ron Washington said of the right-hander's debut. "Nick gave us a chance and at the end, we had the right people that we wanted in there. We just didn't get the job done."

Martinez, who had earlier been called up from Double-A Frisco, kept the Rays off the board until surrendering a solo home run to Yunel Escobar in the third, and then a two-run shot by Matt Joyce in the fourth. Either way, the Rangers had done enough offensively to keep a lead.

And all this coming against one of baseball's best pitchers in Price, against whom the Rangers scored twice in the first inning, once in the second and once in the fourth.

"He gave us the lead and we let them take it back late," Washington said. "We battled [Price] well. Martinez maintained his poise, and he did what he had to do to keep us in the ballgame. He was getting ahead of hitters. He changed speeds. He used his curveball well, changeup, moved the fastball around. He kept us in it and that's all we can ask for."

Martinez, an 18th-round draft pick out of Fordham University in 2011, was masterful, with a bit of help from his defense, which rebounded from an awful night Friday, when the unit committed four errors. There were a number of highlight-reel plays while Martinez was on the mound, and he was gracious in his appreciation for them.

Whether it was Elvis Andrus corralling balls at short, including making a barehanded pickup and throw to first to preserve a lead; or Leonys Martin tracking down a couple of deep flies in center; or Adrian Beltre hustling over just in front of the Rangers dugout to make a scoop catch on a pop foul, Martinez was gifted with defense that seemed destined for a win.

"I couldn't ask for a better group of guys playing behind me," said Martinez, who tossed 85 pitches, 49 for strikes. "Great defense by a great bunch of guys."

Martinez, though, would have liked to have shut Tampa Bay down a little more completely throughout his six innings of work.

"Limit mistakes," Martinez said when asked about the two pitches that resulted in homers. "I made a couple pitches there I wish I could have back. Those are learning experiences, though."

Despite the mistakes, the Rangers, namely Cotts, would have liked to have locked down a win for Martinez.

"He pitched really well and he deserved the win," said Cotts, who had allowed earned runs in just one of his final 20 appearances in 2013. "He made some really good pitches."

Cotts began the eighth with a 4-3 lead but promptly walked Wil Myers to start the inning.

"That's the big thing, that leadoff guy," Cotts said. "Had him down and I let him go. He got on, free pass -- can't do that."

Myers then advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Ben Zobrist. Washington then advised Cotts to intentionally walk Evan Longoria so the southpaw could face the left-handed-hitting James Loney.

"He's the one guy in their lineup that I wasn't about to let him hurt us," Washington said of Longoria. "I was hoping we would get a double-play ball there. I guess my move didn't work out."

It didn't when Loney rapped a 2-2 fastball to left for a two-run double and the eventual Rangers' demise, a second loss in a row that dropped Texas to 2-3.

Notes of importance: Josh Wilson, a former Ray, went 3-for-3 and raised his average to .625 on the season. ... Andrus went 3-for-4 to raise his average to .350.