Texas Rangers: Jason Frasor
Q: Why did you sign so quickly with this team? You didn't wait at all when the offseason began. What was it about here that you wanted to do it right away?
JF: Free agency isn't that great for middle relievers. I never wanted to be the kind of guy that bounced around from team to team as middle relievers often do with one-year deals. I found a place I really, really liked. There's 40,000 people and a winning team. I just really enjoyed it, and it was almost like I had a two-year deal because it happened so fast.
I think I was the first one to sign (this offseason). I just didn't feel it was worth it to try to scrape out maybe a little better contract from somewhere I really, truly didn't want to be. This was where I wanted to be. When they showed interest, let's just get it done and move on. They had some people they were trying to go after (Frasor glanced toward the lockers of Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo), so they wanted to get it done quickly, and that was fine with me.
Q: As you look back at last year, what did you like about how you pitched and what do you want to do better this year?
JF: I think I got off to a bad start last year, but I finished strong. That's why I think I'm back. I finished strong. I didn't invent any pitches this offseason. I want to do what I did last year but get off to a better start.
Q: You said last year that it took some time to get comfortable with the mound last year. Do you think that had something to do with your tough start last year?
JF: I think a lot of that has to do with results, and results I've had pitching in Texas as a visitor. It wasn't good. It wasn't good. A lot of that has to do with Michael Young coming to the plate every single time I came into the game (Young was a career .313 hitter off Frasor). The more I pitched there, the more comfortable I got. It just seems like you have to crow-hop to get it to the plate in some places. But I was very confident toward the end and that confidence carries over to executing pitches.
Q: There are a lot of different faces in here, even for a guy who pitched here last year. What do you think of this team in general?
JF: Great names, tremendous names. Just look at the roster on a piece of paper, it's impressive. We need to get our pitchers healthy, though. We need Holland and Harry. We need those guys desperately. Going into spring training, it's the best team that I've played on.
Q: What about J.P. Arencibia, a guy you know from Toronto?
JF: Catchers that can pop you 20 homers are hard to find, but he's also a very underrated defender. I was in Toronto and he came up as a rookie and he puts down a sign and it was, 'He probably doesn't know what he's talking about yet.’ But the more you pitch to him, he does his homework. He knows what he's doing. It's going to be great with him and Geovany, who everybody loved last year. I think guys throwing to J.P. will realize pretty quickly that he knows what he's doing back there.
Today's position: Middle and long relief
As pitching coach Mike Maddux put it last week, the club will take the best "staff," not the best "relievers" or the best "starters." The mission is about putting together the 12 pitchers who can most help the team. That means figuring out the group they want and how best to align them.
There are a host of candidates for a job in the starting rotation. That's a pressing issue now that Derek Holland's recovery from knee surgery will probably keep him out until midseason. But even as those players compete for that job, they could also be competing for a spot as a long reliever. The pitcher who doesn't go into the rotation could slide in as a long man and spot starter.
The list of internal candidates for the rotation spot include Michael Kirkman, Colby Lewis, Robbie Ross, Tanner Scheppers and Nick Tepesch. There will be more, you can be sure. And there will be external candidates that will get a look as well.
If Ross doesn't earn the job, the lefty could be a critical middle reliever for this team. While he didn't have as strong a 2013 as he did 2012, Ross was still 4-2 with a 3.03 ERA in 65 games. He pitched in a variety of situations. But what was odd about Ross' season was his inability to get left-handed batters out consistently. They hit .341 against him in 91 at-bats. It's something Ross is working on this offseason and into 2014.
Kirkman and Tepesch could be viable long men and spot starters should they not end up in the rotation. Kirkman is motivated after a poor 2013 and believes that the pitcher that showed up for spring training and pitched so well last year can do the same in the regular season. Tepesch got some big league experience last year, stepping into the rotation because of injuries. He was 4-6 with a 4.84 ERA in 19 appearances (17 starts) and is working on a changeup with the hopes of that helping make him more effective.
If Scheppers doesn't start, he's a late-inning reliever and someone who has the experience of getting big outs late in close games. We'll talk more about him tomorrow.
The Rangers also have veteran Jason Frasor for middle relief. He was actually the first player the club signed this offseason. Neal Cotts burst onto the scene last year and returns after a terrific 2013. Cotts had a 1.11 ERA in 57 innings pitched, and opponents hit just .180 off him. Others such as Shawn Tolleson and Ben Rowen will try to impress coaches this spring and see if they can get into that mix.
OUTLOOK: The Rangers have plenty of internal options for the middle and long relief roles, but it may take some time to sort them out. It's a good mix of veterans and young players in the bullpen. We'll talk more about the later innings and the closer in the next few days.
Frasor, 36, gives this club an important veteran in late relief from a bullpen that was one of the best in the big leagues last year. The Rangers had a 2.89 ERA, second-best in the league behind the Kansas City Royals. Frasor was a key component in the sixth or seventh inning to help get the game to Tanner Scheppers and Joe Nathan.
Frasor rebounded from an unsteady April and May to become a solid, reliable relief piece for manager Ron Washington, pitching coach Mike Maddux and bullpen coach Andy Hawkins. Frasor had a 2.06 ERA in the final four months of the season and opponents hit just .187 against him. He allowed just one home run in that span and had a 1.06 WHIP.
In those final four months, Frasor also held left-handed hitters to a .163 average and in the last 22 at-bats lefties had against him, they managed just one hit.
By the way, for those wondering about cost: Mike Adams was coming off a season with the Rangers in which he had a 3.47 ERA in 61 games (52 1/3 innings) with 45 strikeouts and 17 walks. He earned a two-year deal worth $12 million from the Phillies. In fairness, Adams was the club's primary eighth-inning setup man with Texas, and Frasor was not. But Frasor's season-long numbers in 2013 are pretty similar to what Adams had in 2012 before departing (2.57 ERA, 61 games, 49 innings, 48 strikeouts and 20 walks). Frasor certainly fits into the budget a lot better.
The Rangers wanted Frasor's important right arm in the bullpen in 2014, so they got the deal done now.
He had no issues with the baseballs, five innings after former Ranger C.J. Wilson blamed slippery baseballs for control issues that led to three wild pitches and two hit batters.
"I can't tell you I noticed any difference," Scheppers said of the baseballs that were used Friday night.
Wilson said after the game that one in four of the baseballs were not rubbed down properly, a procedure that is done by a Rangers official -- an umpires' attendant -- before each game. The Rangers prepare 12 dozen baseballs per game with baseball rubbing mud. The baseball are inspected by the umpires.
They didn't meet to Wilson's approval.
"The balls were kind of squirting around,” Wilson said. “Are you going to call it a coincidence? It’s not a coincidence. Let’s be honest.”
Rangers manager Ron Washington said Saturday that home plate umpire Mike DiMuro notified him about Wilson's concerns.
"I’ve been in the game since 1970," Washington said. "I haven’t seen a game ball until it was in the game."
Rangers closer Joe Nathan also said Saturday he had no issues with the baseballs in the ninth inning and hasn't had any during his career.
“I don’t know why they thought they were an issue,” Nathan said. “[Wilson] spoke his opinion. That’s all. It’s not something I would’ve done, but at the same time everybody is entitled to their own way of going about things and how to handle stuff.”
There is a home remedy on the mound if the baseballs aren't rubbed down enough, reliever Jason Frasor said.
"You've got to do it yourself," Frasor said. "It takes less than 10 seconds."
Scheppers ready: Scheppers said he'll be ready to go if called upon for a third straight game Saturday. "I'll be ready by one," said Scheppers, noting that the start time is 11:05 a.m., so the late innings will roll around a couple hours later, giving him some extra time to wake up.
Scheppers was superb Friday night, working a perfect top of the eighth with strikeouts of Trout and Hamilton. Scheppers has allowed two runs in his last 16 games.
"Wash has done a good job of managing me this year," Scheppers said. "He gave me a good break around the All-Star break."
Short hops: Martin Perez threw his usual bullpen Saturday morning in anticipation of a potential Monday wild card play-in game against Cleveland or Tampa Bay. ... The Rangers have a stolen base in a club-record 10 games.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Texas Rangers are getting good at these must-win games.
They scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh and held on for a 5-3 victory over the Los Angeles Angels, keeping themselves very much alive in the American League wild-card race with the weekend to go.
The Rangers finally picked up some ground on one of the wild-card front-runners, as the Tampa Bay Rays lost to the Toronto Blue Jays 6-3. The Cleveland Indians won their eighth straight game, beating the Minnesota Twins 12-6.
The Rangers trail both teams by a game with two games to go in the regular season.
Taking the lead: The Rangers got themselves into the Angels' bullpen -- one of their favorite spoils -- and immediately regained the lead in the bottom of the seventh. Ian Kinsler walked to start the inning against Juan Gutierrez. He went to second when he drew a wild pickoff throw from Gutierrez. Elvis Andrus followed with a sacrifice bunt to move Kinsler to third. With the Angels playing the infield in, Alex Rios slapped a single through the right side to score Kinsler for a 4-3 lead. Rios then stole second. On A.J. Pierzynski's infield single to shortstop, Rios came steaming around third to score when Angels shortstop Erick Aybar threw to first base.
Wild night for C.J.: Rangers fans know what a roller-coaster ride it can be with C.J. Wilson on the mound. Texas took a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the third thanks to three wild pitches, two hit batters and a single allowed by Wilson. He hit A.J. Pierzynski to force in a run as the Rangers took a 2-1 lead. Then Alex Rios scored on a wild pitch for a 3-1 lead. The Rangers did have two runners in scoring position with one out and a chance to extend the lead, but Jeff Baker and Mitch Moreland struck out to end the threat.
Ogando's night: Alexi Ogando kept the Rangers in the game, leaving with the score tied at 3-3, but he did give up the lead in the top of the fifth. Leading 3-1, Ogando allowed a leadoff single to No. 9 hitter Austin Romine, who had also singled and scored in the third inning. After Erick Aybar flied out, Kole Calhoun had a ground-ball single into right field to put runners at first and third. Ogando then walked the dangerous Mike Trout to get to former Ranger Josh Hamilton, who grounded a single through the right side to score Romine and Calhoun to tie the game at 3-3.
The 'pen: Wilson and the Angels found out for the second straight night that the Rangers' bullpen is hardly out of steam. The trio of Jason Frasor, Neal Cotts and Tanner Scheppers did serious damage Friday night. They retired all eight batters they faced and totaled six strikeouts. Scheppers had the big inning, facing Trout-Hamilton-Howie Kendrick. Scheppers blew 98 mph fastballs by Trout and Hamilton and got Kendrick to bounce out to second.
Just missed: Leonys Martin almost played the hero again for the Rangers. With runners at first and second and two outs in the bottom of the sixth, Martin stung a line drive on C.J. Wilson's 120th pitch into center field. For a moment it looked like Martin would give the Rangers a lead for a third straight night, but Hamilton and his fake beard were able to run it down for the third out.
Up next: The Rangers and Los Angeles Angels have to set the alarm clocks way earlier for Saturday's new start time of 11:05 a.m. in Arlington with rain expected later in the day. For Texas, left-hander Derek Holland (10-9, 3.33 ERA) will face Angels right-hander Garrett Richards (7-7, 4.09) on Fox Sports Southwest and ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM and 1540-AM.
His manager, Ron Washington, has seen the growth too, well before the 20-year-old infielder produced one of the biggest moments of the season, a walk-off home run to beat the Los Angeles Angels 6-5 on Thursday night.
"It's been invaluable," Washington said of Profar's time with this year's club.
The numbers might not show it. Profar is batting .235 with six home runs and 26 RBIs. He has a .309 on-base percentage.
He's only played in two of the last 18 games and last started on Sept. 18 at Tampa Bay. But Profar showed Thursday night none of this seems to be fazing him.
"He's not afraid," Washington said. "Even to this point, if you look at the production and the struggles he's had, he's been a big part of us being able to play like we are right now with a chance to make it to the playoffs. And last night was just a little bit of icing on the cake that he was able to come through for us. He has to grow from it. He'll be a better player for it."
He wants the fans to be excited, to enjoy these last five games.
Yes, if the season ended today, the Rangers would be out of the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.
|Chuck Cooperstein joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss why he feels Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish isn't an ace.
"It's fun, it's nerve-wracking, it's all of the above," Washington said. "No matter what, I'm proud of these guys for the way they have fought all year with all the adversity. They never complained.
"It's fun, it's nerve-wracking and your stomach gets in knots. But what doesn't get in knots is your focus. You have to do what you have to do. You've got to live with what's going on in front of us."
The Rangers may be victims of their own success when it comes to perception with their fans and some of those that opine about the club. One local columnist compared this week to a funeral procession.
National and local columnists and talk shows are already playing the blame game with the Rangers a game out of the second wild-card spot.
The Rangers are 7-15 in September and another final month fade could be happening in Arlington. Texas had a two-game lead in the AL West when September started and Oakland clinched its second consecutive division title on Sunday as the Rangers faltered.
Still, the Rangers could win their final five games -- all at home -- and make the playoffs. Maybe even make the World Series for a third time in four years.
“You look at every other city that has a chance of being in the playoffs now, and there’s joy,” Washington said. “I don’t see a whole lot of joy in Arlington. I’m not knocking anybody. I just don’t see it. All they can talk about is how we collapsed. That’s not right.”
Moreland back at first: Mitch Moreland drew Wednesday's start against a left-hander, Houston's Dallas Keuchel. He has hits in two straight games after going though an 0-for-14 stretch.
Remember that Moreland hit a home run off the last left-handed starter the Rangers faced, Tampa Bay's Matt Moore, on Thursday in an 8-2 victory.
"My options are limited, so I put him in there," Washington said. "He may catch one. He is my best first baseman, so I'm going to take my chances and see what happens."
Wash trusts Frasor: There was still much discussion Wednesday about Washington opting for reliever Jason Frasor with runners at first and third and two outs in the bottom of the eighth with the Rangers clinging to a 3-2 lead over Houston and not closer Joe Nathan for a four-out save.
Washington trusts Frasor, and the veteran reliever came through for him after taking the loss Friday in Kansas City.
"Early on he was just having trouble getting going," Washington said. "But the more we've been able to get him the ball, the more in tune he has become with his stuff."
Frasor, who first starting warming up in the fourth inning with Yu Darvish struggling, entered the game four innings later.
"I've pitched in the fourth (inning) and the ninth in my career," Frasor said. "I was ready to go."
Short hops: The Rangers have won 86 games for a club-record five consecutive seasons. They had won 86-plus games just twice in franchise history before this winning run. ... Darvish has a major league-league leading 269 strikeouts, equaling the most in a single season since Randy Johnson had 290 Ks for Arizona in 2004. Justin Verlander also had 269 punchouts in 2009.
It was a moment that, quite honestly, Beltre hasn't delivered in a while. He had carried the Rangers in July and August. He even pushed his way into the American League MVP race.
But the power had been out since Aug. 28 in Seattle. Beltre had reached 83 at-bats without a home run when he stepped up in the bottom of the sixth with the scored tied at 2. That's when he finally delivered against Astros starter Brad Peacock, sending a rocket into the left-field seats to give Texas a win on a wild night in the American League wild-card race.
"Apparently, I found out a way today," Beltre said of his 29th homer. "It’s been a long time. It felt good. It felt really good. I haven’t had that feeling in a long time."
Neither had his teammates. They were sleeping when he arrived to the dugout instead of fighting to get to him to take his helmet off and touch his head, something he hates. This time, only manager Ron Washington came up on the dugout steps to greet Beltre.
"I can’t blame them," Beltre said. "It’s been a long time, but hopefully that’ll be the beginning of a couple this week. Not because I hit a homer, but because it was a good spot to hit it to give our ballclub the lead, and that’s what I want."
This was another big win because the Astros team that sleepwalked through a 12-0 loss on Monday was much more energized for the Rangers and Yu Darvish. Not to mention that the Rangers desperately needed the win to keep pace with the Tampa Bay Rays and Cleveland Indians, who both won their fifth straight game on Tuesday.
The Indians won 5-4 over the Chicago White Sox on a walk-off homer by 42-year-old Jason Giambi. Beltre admitted he was scoreboard watching and saw that Cleveland had won to stay a game ahead of the Rangers. Texas is two back of the Rays for the first wild-card spot.
"I think every inning I was watching the scoreboard," Beltre said. "It’s right there to look at, so every time I get a chance, I look[ed] back to see what the score was."
The Rangers won a night when Darvish again wasn't at his best. For the third time in September, he didn't make it through six innings. Also for the third time since the All-Star break, Darvish allowed a game-tying home run after the Rangers had given him the lead. The Astros joined the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox by accomplishing that against Darvish.
Darvish didn't have much to say about giving up another lead.
"The most important thing right now is to win a game," Darvish said. "I was able to keep us in the game, and that's all I can say."
The bullpen -- along with Beltre -- won the game for the Rangers. Neal Cotts got three outs, and Tanner Scheppers picked up four as Washington went to the bullpen earlier with the game on the line.
Then, with two runners on and two outs in the top of the eighth and Scheppers tiring -- he said so after the game -- Washington went to Jason Frasor, who got Astros catcher Carlos Corporan out.
Frasor took the loss on Friday in Kansas City when Neftali Feliz walked in the go-ahead run with the bases loaded, all runners Frasor had put on. So Frasor wanted to get the bad taste out of his mouth.
He threw two fastballs to Corporan to get ahead. He threw a third to Corporan, who hit a ball to shallow center field that looked like it was dropping at first. Center fielder Leonys Martin came in and made the catch, ending the inning.
"When I first saw it go up, I thought it was going to fall in," Frasor said. "I couldn't tell how shallow Leonys was playing. He must have gotten a good jump. He came in and got it."
Joe Nathan closed it out, and the Rangers are still in striking distance of the Indians and Rays with five games to go.
And Adrian Beltre has his power back.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Adrian Beltre ended a long home run drought and the Rangers held on for a 3-2 victory over the Houston Astros on Tuesday night.
The Rangers stayed within a game of the Cleveland Indians for the final wild-card spot after the Indians had a two-run, walk-off homer from pinch hitter Jason Giambi.
Texas is two games behind the Tampa Bay Rays for the first wild-card spot after the Rays won in New York against the Yankees 7-0. All three teams have five games left.
Beltre finally homers: Beltre ended his September home run drought in the bottom of the sixth to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead. He slugged a 1-2 fastball from Brad Peacock into the left-field seats for his 29th of the season. It was Beltre's first home run in 83 at-bats this month and his first since Aug. 28 against Seattle.
Soto power: Geovany Soto started Tuesday's game, the fourth straight time with Yu Darvish pitching, and the Rangers have benefited from his bat just as much as his work behind the plate. Soto tied the game at one in the bottom of the fourth with an RBI single, sneaking a ground ball past Brett Wallace. Soto is batting .393 with two home runs and five RBIs in his past nine games.
Rangers take lead: Craig Gentry had a leadoff single in the bottom of the fifth, which gives him nine hits in his past 18 at-bats. He went to second on Leonys Martin's sacrifice bunt and scored on Ian Kinsler's RBI single for a 2-1 lead.
Darvish gets no-decision: Darvish allowed only two runs in 5⅓ innings, but it was another start in which he didn't make it through six innings. That's three times in five starts this month. Darvish also gave up a lead with a home run again, the third time that's happened since the All-Star break. This one came from Astros third baseman Matt Dominguez, who tied the game in the top of the sixth with his 21st home run. He has three long balls against Darvish this season, the only hits he has against him.
Darvish K meter: Darvish had nine strikeouts, giving him a major league-best 269 K's for the season. Darvish struck out the side in the fourth and fifth innings.
Cotts and Scheppers: Manager Ron Washington has been calling upon Tanner Scheppers and Neal Cotts earlier in games and asking them to get an extra out or two, and they have been brilliant. Cotts came on with a runner on in the top of the sixth with the Rangers leading 3-2 and got out of a jam with a runner in scoring position. Scheppers entered in the seventh with a runner at second and one out and got a lineout and a strikeout. Scheppers then got two quick outs in the top of the eighth before a walk and a single forced Washington to go the bullpen again, this time to Jason Frasor.
Frasor gets big out: Frasor, the losing pitcher in Kansas City on Friday night when he loaded the bases and had to watch as Neftali Feliz walked in the go-ahead run, had to keep two runners put on base by Scheppers from scoring. He did it. Frasor got ahead of Astros catcher Carlos Corporan with two fastballs. Then, he threw another one that Corporan popped up to shallow center field for the third out.
Up next: The Rangers go for a three-game sweep of Houston when left-hander Martin Perez (9-5, 3.54 ERA) faces Astros left-hander Dallas Keuchel (6-9, 4.99 ERA) at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday night on Fox Sports Southwest and ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM and 1540 AM.
Out of choice options, they went to one-time closer Neftali Feliz, who threw four pitches -- all balls -- with the bases loaded to force in the go-ahead run. The Rangers were left to deal with a 2-1 loss to the Royals that further tightened the American League wild-card race.
How it came down to Feliz is an interesting story.
Manager Ron Washington was asked before the game if Feliz was ready to close a game if other options -- Joe Nathan, Tanner Scheppers, Neal Cotts and Joakim Soria, in particular -- were unavailable because of a heavy workload.
It led to a healthy debate among the manager and his inquisitors and yielded an answer that could only truly be made after seeing Feliz in a pressure situation. After all, he had pitched in only five games after missing 13 months recovering from Tommy John ligament replacement surgery.
Well, that pressure moment, with more than 30,000 Royals fans on their feet, ended up happening seven hours later.
Then, Lorenzo Cain battled him for a single up the middle, and Mike Moustakas blooped a single over shortstop Elvis Andrus' glove into left field for a single to move Cain to third. Frasor ended up walking the bases loaded after getting ahead of pinch hitter David Lough with a 1-2 count but failing to put him away.
With the bags full and Frasor at 26 pitches, Washington needed another option out of the bullpen.
He wasn't going to Scheppers -- who had pitched in three straight games -- unless it was absolutely necessary, e.g., extra innings. Or Soria, who had pitched in back-to-back games Tuesday and Wednesday. Cotts had already done his work, getting four outs.
Scheppers had told pitching coach Mike Maddux he could go if needed after throwing 28 pitches in his three consecutive appearances, which meant extra innings if necessary.
"If we had to use him [we would have]," Washington said. "Other than that, I can't hurt the kid."
So Washington decided on Feliz, a highly risky move just because -- again -- he hasn't pitched much. And Feliz showed the rust, guiding four pitches up to the plate, none of them close to the strike zone.
"I was frustrated that I wasn't able to locate the ball," Feliz said. "I understand that's part of the game. I'll keep my head up and try tomorrow."
Frasor could only watch. He was so close to getting out of the inning a couple of times -- at first, it looked like Andrus would catch Moustakas' flare, and Frasor made Lough look bad early in the count -- but it didn't come out in his favor.
"It stinks when you to have to be taken out for someone else," Frasor said. "That's a tough spot for Nefti."
Yes, it was.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- It was bad enough when the Rangers were losing two out of three games in series versus Minnesota, Oakland and the Los Angeles Angels.
How does a three-game sweep at the hands of the Pittsburgh Pirates grab you in September?
The Rangers plummeted to 2-8 for the month and have lost nine of their last 12 games as they continue to make life difficult for themselves with the American League West and wild-card playoff spots on the line.
AL West race: The Rangers will have to wait and see if Oakland can build on its 2 1/2-game lead in the division. The A's play at Minnesota on Wednesday night and Thursday afternoon, so the Rangers could be down 3 1/2 games in the West when their three-game series starts against Oakland in Arlington on Friday. The Rangers began Wednesday with a four-game lead for the final wild-card spot, with several teams chasing them playing night games.
Closing the gap: The Rangers scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh but left the tying run at third base. A.J. Pierzynski started the inning with a double. With one out, Jurickson Profar singled to put runners at first and third, and then David Murphy had an RBI single to cut the Pirates' lead to 6-3. Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus followed with line-drive singles to center field to trim Pittsburgh's lead to 6-5. In the second of two key at-bats, Alex Rios, the Rangers' hottest hitter recently, flied out to left field with runners at first and third.
Repeat of Tuesday: The Rangers couldn't come up with a clutch hit in the late innings. They had the tying runs on base in the bottom of the eighth after a single by Adrian Beltre and a walk to Mitch Moreland, but Vin Mazzaro struck out Profar looking and Murphy grounded out to first on the 10th pitch of his at-bat.
Sixth-inning uprising: The Rangers cut Pittsburgh's lead in half in the bottom of the sixth. Murphy and Leonys Martin opened the inning by drawing walks. Kinsler then had the Rangers' second hit of the game with a single to left field. Andrus delivered a single off the glove of Pirates shortstop Clint Barmes to score Murphy and Martin, cutting the Pirates' lead to 4-2. Starter A.J. Burnett stopped the Rangers right there. With runners at first and second, he induced a double-play ball from Rios and then got Beltre to fly out to right field to end the inning.
Garza disaster: Matt Garza had already been a disappointment overall in nine starts since being traded to the Rangers. His 10th start was a debacle. Garza walked the leadoff hitter in back-to-back innings early, and both runners scored. He walked the Pirates' No. 9 hitter, Felix Pie, to start the top of the third. Pie stole second and scored on Neil Walker's single to center field for a 1-0 lead. The top of the fourth was worse for Garza. He allowed the first four batters to reach base, starting with a walk to Pedro Alvarez. Garza loaded the bases and walked Clint Barmes to force in a run to make it 2-0. After Garza struck out Pie, Andrus booted a tailor-made double-play ball as the Pirates took a 3-0 lead. Garza threw 89 pitches and was out of the game after four innings.
Tough day for bullpen: Garza's inability to go past the fourth inning put the game in the hands of the bullpen which didn't keep Pittsburgh at three runs. Joseph Ortiz allowed a run on two hits in the fifth inning as the Rangers fell behind 4-0. The combination of Ortiz, Jason Frasor and Neal Cotts gave up two runs in the top of the seventh after the Rangers cut the lead to 6-2. That included a wild pitch by Cotts that plated the second run in the inning. After the Rangers cut the lead to 6-5 in the bottom of the seventh, Tanner Scheppers allowed Barmes' fifth home run of the season in the top of the eighth to give Pittsburgh a two-run lead.
Up next: The Rangers get a much-needed off day Thursday, their final one of the season, before beginning a 17-game stretch run that starts with American League West leader Oakland. The pitching matchups for the series are: Friday, left-hander Derek Holland (9-8, 3.17 ERA) versus right-hander Dan Straily (9-7, 4.15); Saturday, right-hander Yu Darvish versus right-hander Bartolo Colon (15-6, 2.85); and Sunday, left-hander Martin Perez (9-4, 3.60) versus right-hander Jarrod Parker (11-6, 3.55).
Elvis Andrus was mobbed by teammates Wednesday after his walk-off sacrifice fly. And well he should have: It gave the Rangers a three-game sweep of the Astros.
"It was tense," he said.
He used those three words to describe the moments leading up to shortstop Elvis Andrus delivering a sacrifice fly to left field to score Adam Rosales with one out in the bottom of the ninth, giving the Rangers a three-game sweep of Houston and a 2½-game lead over the Oakland Athletics in the American League West.
After Andrus' heroics, it was pandemonium, with a few Rangers players pulling their shortstop by the jersey through the infield as they celebrated another clutch victory in August. The Rangers have won 18 of their past 22 games.
Washington had the tense part correct. And in stressful times, it's good to have guys who have been in pressure situations before.
It took the relief work of former closers Joakim Soria and Jason Frasor to get out of bases-loaded jams in the seventh and eighth innings, and the cool calm of Andrus, who at 24 has played in two World Series for the Rangers.
Let's start with Andrus. He gave the Rangers a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the seventh when he executed a suicide squeeze bunt to score Craig Gentry. At the time, that insurance run looked like it would be enough to beat the 41-win Astros.
Andrus' ninth-inning heroics combined with the Athletics' loss mean Texas now holds a 2½-game advantage in the AL West standings.
The Rangers responded in the bottom of the ninth by loading the bases, forcing Astros reliever Chia-Jen Lo to throw strikes. He couldn't. Mitch Moreland led off the inning with a single, and Jurickson Profar and Leonys Martin walked to fill the bases.
Andrus, who had missed a bunt earlier in the bottom of the fifth, had gained confidence for his ninth-inning at-bat by nearly hitting a home run that inning, flying out to the left-field fence. That helped him for his at-bat against Lo.
Of course, Washington could have gone with another squeeze, but with the advantage of having that planted in the Astros' minds, and a first-pitch ball, he let Andrus swing away with the Astros employing five infielders.
Andrus lofted a fly ball into not-too-deep left field, and pinch runner Rosales used his speed to easily beat a high throw home from Astros left fielder Robbie Grossman.
"I was trying to hit a fly ball," Andrus said. "It was a little easier today. I had two fly balls already. I was trying to stay below the ball and just put a good swing on it, especially with the way that we're playing in. I don't need to do much in that situation."
Andrus wouldn't have gotten his walk-off chance without Soria and Frasor.
Rangers starter Derek Holland looked like he was coasting to his third win at home this season with a 3-1 lead in the top of the seventh. But a line drive from Jason Castro's bat that glanced off his left forearm seemed to rattle him.
He walked the next two batters he faced, loading the bases.
"It scared the crap out of me," Holland said of getting hit. "I had to calm myself down, I took deep breaths, but I couldn't do it and it cost me the win."
Soria came on with the bags full and got a double play. Even though the Astros scored to make it 3-2, the two outs were huge. After a walk, Soria got another ground ball to hold the lead.
The Rangers led 4-2 with two outs in the top of the eighth when Scheppers, fresh off a double-play ball, allowed two bloop hits, a walk and two wild pitches as the Astros cut the lead to 4-3.
And that was before he lost command of the strike zone. Scheppers hit the next two Astros, including striking rookie catcher Max Stassi in the face, to force in the tying run.
"It's one of those pitches that got away," Scheppers said of the 96 mph fastball that glanced off Stassi's shoulder before hitting his face.
Fortunately, the inning and the game didn't get away from the Rangers. Veteran right-hander Frasor came in with the bases still loaded and struck out Brett Wallace to keep the score at 4-all.
That set up Andrus' heroics. And the Rangers survived yet again.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Rangers' bullpen is back on track.
After a pair of losses over the weekend against Seattle, the Texas bullpen came back with a huge effort in Tuesday's 4-2 victory over the Houston Astros, delivering five scoreless innings.
Jason Frasor, Neal Cotts, Tanner Scheppers and Joe Nathan followed up starter Travis Blackley's four innings by retiring 15 of the 18 batters they faced. That included eight strikeouts, three of them from Nathan to close out the game.
The bullpen was on alert Tuesday night because Blackley, acquired from the Astros last week, was on a strict pitch count of 65 because he hadn't started a game this season.
"We're pretty confident we can get outs," Cotts said. "We're well rested out there and working well together. It was a good team win."
Blackley did his part. He allowed a two-run home run to Matt Dominguez in the second inning, but that was it. Astros rookie Jarred Cosart hadn't allowed more than two runs in his six starts to begin his career, so Blackley also was aware of what was in front of him.
"He did what he needed him to do, keep us in the game," manager Ron Washington said. "After that fourth we felt like we didn't need to stretch him out anymore, so we took him out."
Blackley threw 28 pitches in a long fourth inning -- he works at a slow, slow pace -- but was able to work around a one-out single.
That set up the pen. Frasor got five outs. Cotts picked up four. Scheppers, who may well warrant all of the eighth-inning setup opportunities the rest of the way, worked around a one-out single.
Scheppers has rarely pitched on back-to-back days since the All-Star break after a heavy load in the first half. In fact, the Ranger bullpen's 36 2/3 innings pitched in August entering Tuesday was the least in the major leagues.
"(Tanner) got a good break there," Washington said. "Now he's starting to get opportunities to get back out there. And as long as he sees hitters, he'll be fine."
With Derek Holland starting Wednesday and the fact he's been an automatic six or seven innings this season, Washington was able to lean on his bullpen to clinch the win Tuesday.
They delivered. Now comes the next day.
"We were trying to win a ball game," Washington said. "It was about today. It wasn't about what's going to happen tomorrow. You never know what's going to happen tomorrow. For some reason if it doesn't go our way tomorrow, we have enough in the bullpen."
What's up now: Rapid reaction from Tuesday's 4-2 victory over the Houston Astros. Plus, a postgame blog on the amazing Adrian Beltre.
On deck: It's a battle of left-handers as Derek Holland (9-6, 2.95) faces Erik Bedard (3-9, 4.49) at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday night on Fox Sports Southwest and ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM and Deportes 1540 AM.
Question of the day: Is it time for Washington to give the eighth inning back to Scheppers exclusively?
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Texas Rangers didn't need to get into the Houston bullpen, not after Adrian Beltre drilled a two-run home run off Astros starter Jarred Cosart in the sixth inning for a 4-2 victory Tuesday night.
Beltre again: Beltre turned the game around with a two-run home run to the opposite field with one out in the bottom of the sixth to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead. Ian Kinsler had walked in front of him. Beltre has 12 home runs and 36 RBIs since July 4. He is batting .406 with three home runs and 17 RBIs in August.
On the run: The Rangers made it six straight games with a stolen base when Alex Rios swiped second for his 29th of the season. Jurickson Profar added to the Rangers' total of outs on the bases this season when he was thrown out trying to steal second base in the bottom of the fifth.
Blackley goes four: Left-hander Travis Blackley made his Rangers debut and went four innings, giving up two runs and four hits. He threw 66 pitches, one more than the 65 the Rangers had targeted for him. Blackley fell behind two Astros with one out in the top of the second, and it cost him. He gave up a walk on a 3-and-1 count to Chris Carter. And again with a 3-1 count, Houston third baseman Matt Dominguez clubbed his 17th home run, a two-run shot to left field.
Cosart impresses: Cosart, the Astros' rookie ace, showed off his promise in his first start against the Rangers. The 23-year-old right-hander gave up three runs and four hits, and took a 2-1 lead into the sixth inning. The three runs are the most he has given up in seven starts to begin his big league career.
Beltre, Rios combo: Beltre had a leadoff double in the second inning to set up the Rangers' first run. After a wild pitch moved Beltre to third, Rios came through with an infield hit to third base to cut the Astros' lead to 2-1.
Bullpen bulldogs: Jason Frasor and Neal Cotts combined for three shutout innings in relief from the fifth to the seventh, getting the game to the back of the bullpen. Frasor retired five of the six batters he faced and had three strikeouts. Cotts came in with two outs in the sixth and struck out Jason Castro to end the inning, then fanned the first two Astros he faced in the top of the seventh. After a two-out single by Houston rookie Max Stassi, Cotts got Brandon Barnes to ground out to second base.
Scheppers, too: Tanner Scheppers pitched the eighth inning after not getting in the game Sunday in a 4-3 loss. Scheppers pitched like a setup man. He did allow a one-out infield single to Robbie Grossman, but he bounced back for two quick outs to hold the lead at 3-2.
Up next: The Rangers and Houston end a three-game series with left-hander Derek Holland (9-6, 2.95 ERA) facing Astros left-hander Erik Bedard (3-9, 4.49) at 7:05 p.m. CT Wednesday on Fox Sports Southwest and ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM and 1540-AM.
|ESPN Dallas' Todd Wills joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to react to the Rangers' trade for Alex Rios and discuss how it impacts the team down the stretch.
"He legitimately is one of those five-tool guys," Pierzynski said. "I've seen Alex at his best and at his worst. When he's right, there's not a lot of people that are better than him."
Rangers general manager Jon Daniels went to Pierzynski weeks ago to ask him about Rios when the Rangers were exploring a deal for the 32-year-old outfielder before the trade deadline. Pierzynski signed off on Rios as a player and as a teammate.
"I told him I would take him in a second," Pierzynski said. "His talent and his track record and as long is Alex is Alex and plays the way he can, then he can help us.
"He's a fun guy to have around. He's very talented. He can help. He can do numerous things either offensively or defensively."
Another former Rios' teammate when they were in Toronto, Jason Frasor, was asked how Rios would fit with the Rangers.
"It's hard not to fit in here," Frasor said. "You're free to be yourself. And there are guys here who police the locker room."
Pierzynski predicted Rios and shortstop Elvis Andrus will become fast friends.
"Him and Elvis dress similar so that will be good," Pierzynski said. "They can talk about fashion. They both wear really tight clothing.
"Alex will fit in perfectly. He's quiet, but once you get to know, he's fun. He's competitive."
There's also the part of Rios going from the last-place White Sox to the first-place Rangers. That can only be a breath of fresh air.
"Hopefully coming here will invigorate and give him a shot of energy and help us win the pennant," Pierzynski said.
103.3 FM ESPN PODCASTS
Play Podcast Rangers GM Jon Daniels joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to tackle the tough questions after his team failed to advance to the playoffs.
Play Podcast Nolan Ryan joins Galloway and Company to discuss having Nelson Cruz back in the lineup and how the Rangers are feeling heading into their wild-card play-in game against the Rays.
Play Podcast ESPN Insider and senior MLB analyst Jim Bowden joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the wild-card race and the Rangers' chances of making the playoffs.
Play Podcast Chuck Cooperstein joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss why he feels Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish isn't an ace.
Play Podcast Elvis Andrus joins Galloway and Company to discuss the Rangers' stretch run and the morale level in their clubhouse.
Play Podcast Nolan Ryan joins Galloway and Company to discuss the latest Rangers news, including the team's struggles, Ron Washington's job security and a rumored trade with the Braves.
Play Podcast Ron Washington joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss the Rangers' dismal September, who's to blame for their September struggles and his status as the team's manager.
Play Podcast Fitzsimmons and Durrett discuss how some people are calling for the Rangers to fire manager Ron Washington.