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Saturday, July 3, 2010
Rangers reax: Hunter gives hitters night off

By Jeff Caplan

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Rangers manager Ron Washington paid pitcher Tommy Hunter the ultimate compliment after he improved to 5-0 and dropped his ERA to 1.98 on the season with another efficient outing, this time a 3-1 victory Saturday night over the Chicago White Sox.

"He's a pitcher," Washington said.

Hunter, who faced the White Sox for the first time in his career, said he didn't have command of his cutter early on, so he went to his four-seam fastball until his cutter came back later in the ballgame. Whatever he was throwing, he was in command, giving up nine hits, all singles in seven-plus innings, while never really facing any threatening situations. The lone run charged to him scored after he left and was aided by a balk called on Frankie Francisco that moved the runners to second and third.

Then Hunter paid pitching coach Mike Maddux the ultimate compliment.

"Mike puts together a really good game plan. He knows exactly what we can do. We go in there at 6 o'clock and he goes over each and every hitter and he tells you exactly what you can do," said Hunter, who also celebrated his 24th birthday Saturday. "And if you go out there and do exactly what he says, it works."

Hunter said newly acquired catcher, veteran Benjie Molina, asked him if he planned to ever veer from Maddux's game plan.

"I said, 'No, just do exactly that.' He said, 'You're serious?' I said, 'Yeah, it works, I promise you,'" Hunter said. "He [Molina] knew it tonight and he just went out and kept doing it, and kept doing it. He kept doing the same thing over and over, repetitively; just mixed in a few different pitches and the end result, what Mike says to do, nine times out of 10 it's going to work."

Hunter has won five of his six starts and he's won all five games at Rangers Ballpark allowing just seven earned runs in 34 innings. He didn't join the club until June 5 because of a left oblique strain he sustained in spring training. He's not an overpowering pitcher, but he's making batters work and he's not giving them free passes. Hunter walked one and struck out three on Saturday.

"He's pounding the strike zone, not making mistakes in the middle of the plate, executing his pitches," Washington said. "When you do that you get the results he's getting. Right now, he's executing very well, throwing strikes, keeping the ball in play. He's doing everything you like to see a pitcher do."

After allowing the first two batters in the eighth inning to get on base, Washington ended Hunter's night after 94 pitches. The 25,986 in attendance gave Hunter a standing ovation.

"It's fun, hell yeah, it's awesome," Hunter said of the standing-O. "I remember the worst standing ovation I ever got was in Boston when I gave up 11 runs. So, it's a lot better when you're doing well than when you absolutely suck and give up 11 runs to the other team. It's always fun, especially when the fans give you appreaciation. They're good fans, real good fans. I like Texas."

And the Texas hitters like Hunter. The 6-foot-3, pudgy 280-pounder outdueled Chicago lefty John Danks, who shut down the Rangers' meat of the order. Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, Vladimir Guerrero and Josh Hamilton combined to go 1-for-12 at the plate. The Rangers eeked out two runs on ground outs and a third on Elvis Andrus' bloop beyond the shortstop.

"He attacks the zone with all his pitches. When he’s doing that he's keeping hitters off-balance," said second baseman Ian Kinsler, who was 0-for-2 with a pair of walks. "That's basically what it comes down to. He's not scared and he trusts his stuff."

*Hunter did have one thing not go his way. For the first time in his six starts, Josh Hamilton failed to hit a home run.

*Hunter called Molina a "game-changer" behind the plate: "He's good. He receives well, like really well. He got some strikes called tonight that probably weren't strikes."

*Manager Ron Washington argued the balk called on Francisco in the eighth inning by home plate umpire Fieldin Culbreth: "I wasn't sure if he balked. When he explained it to me, [he told me] exactly what happened. He picked up his feet, put it back down in front of the rubber and then twisted."

*The Rangers were outhit 10-6, they hit into three double plays and their Nos. 2, 3, 4, and 5 hitters went a combined 1-for-12. Yet, the Rangers still managed to get the victory. Texas got two runs on ground outs, both from the eight-hole hitter. Joaquin Arias, who started at first base, grounded out to shortstop that scored the runner from third, and in the seventh inning, pinch-hitter Justin Smoak grounded one close enough to the third-base line that third baseman Dayan Viciendo couldn't throw home and had to get the double play while surrending the run that might it 2-0.

"It's huge," Washington said of squeezing runs out of the bottom of the order. "It doesn’t matter how you get them as long as you get them."