ARLINGTON, Texas -- It appears that Robbie Ross isn't heading back to the bullpen any time soon.
The 24-year-old wanted to start before the season began, making that clear to the front office. And when they offered him the opportunity to compete for the rotation -- a long shot when spring training started -- Ross seized it.
Injuries and his solid spring earned him the job, and on Tuesday he served notice that he intends to make the most of his chance. Ross looked like a different pitcher than the one that walked six batters at Fenway Park last week, admittedly not feeling well that night. Gone was the guy who threw too many long-pitch innings to last deep into games.
Ross was efficient on Tuesday, throwing 90 pitches in 7 2/3 innings, an average of less than 12 an inning. He needed 98 to get through 5 1/3 innings in Boston and 97 to throw five innings in his season debut versus the Phillies. He threw the Mariners a steady diet of fastballs, working both sides of the plate. He mixed in a few breaking balls, but it was clear that Ross' fastball was working and he was happy to pitch to contact and let his defense do the work. Ross didn't walk anyone, though he hit Brad Miller twice.
"I try to go out there and attack them," Ross said. "If it starts happening where they're swinging and hitting it and pounding it all over the place, then maybe switch things up. Tonight it just happened to be that we were making some plays for me, so I just tried to attack them and do the best I could."
Ross finally got some run support, too. He had gone his first 11 1/3 innings without a single run being scored while he was on the mound, the longest streak in the majors this season. But Prince Fielder and Kevin Kouzmanoff hit consecutive homers to give him a 2-0 lead as he jogged out to pitch the third and Ross made it stand up.
Ross went 7 2/3 innings, the most of his career, and was taken out with right-handed batter Corey Hart due up as the tying run in the eighth. Manager Ron Washington said he wanted the fresh arm of Alexi Ogando to pitch there since it was one swing away from a tie score.
Ross induced 16 ground ball outs and didn't walk anyone, something that got him into trouble in his last start at Fenway Park. He pitched quickly, staying in a rhythm and allowing his defense to stay alert behind him.
"Having that tempo keeps you on your toes defensively," Kouzmanoff said. "That's what he did tonight. He got a lot of ground balls. We were constantly ready. That helps. It kept the game moving."
Ross' performance helped the Rangers to their fourth shutout of the season, the most in the big leagues. The starting pitching is beginning to come around. In the first five games of this 10-game homestand, Texas starters have a 2.25 ERA and are holding opponents to a .187 average. It's a good thing, because they're getting just 1.5 runs of support in that span, too. Yet the club is 3-2.
"All the pitching is starting to come together," Washington said. "The bullpen is doing a good job. The starting pitcher has kept us in ballgames. Robbie tonight was able to do what he wanted to do with the baseball. The cutter was working. He had a nice breaking ball. He was able to spot his fastball around the zone and keep the ball in play and was very aggressive as he has been. That's what it takes."