Texas Rangers: Joakim Soria

Choice done in by sinkers in key situations

June, 29, 2014
Jun 29
7:25
PM CT
Michael ChoicePaul Moseley/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT"It's pretty frustrating," Michael Choice said of his struggles. "I'm trying to be more consistent."

ARLINGTON, Texas -- For Michael Choice, a 24-year-old outfielder still feeling his way in the big leagues, the Texas Rangers' 3-2 loss Sunday to the Minnesota Twins will not appear on his individual highlight reel.

In the field, the Texas-Arlington product did make a nice running catch.

But at the plate, Choice came up empty in a pair of vital run-scoring chances.

In the second inning with none out and again in the seventh with one out, Choice batted with runners at first and third.

Minnesota pitcher Kyle Gibson struck out Choice in the second. That threat ended on 20-year-old second baseman Rougned Odor's double-play grounder.

In the seventh, Gibson got Choice to bounce into the Rangers’ third double play of the game to kill a chance to take the lead. Texas didn’t threaten again.

Sunday’s 0-for-3 dropped Choice’s batting average to .183. However, he remains second on the club in home runs, with eight.

“It’s pretty frustrating," Choice said. “Just when I feel like I’m about to get it going, I drop off a few days later. I’m trying to be more consistent."

In either situation, a fly ball to medium depth was what was needed. Even a double-play grounder in the second inning would have scored a run.

“I know what I’m supposed to do there," Choice said. “But [Gibson] has a really good sinker and he got me both times. He’s good at what he does."

Rangers manager Ron Washington chalked things up to Choice's learning process: “He has to figure out what pitchers are trying to do to him and adjust. It’s going to take time but we’re going to keep working with him."

On the double plays, Washington said hitters in those situations "have to walk up to the plate and know what needs to be done."

Not a bad pitch: Joakim Soria was not unhappy about the pitch he threw that Kendrys Morales turned around for the winning hit in the ninth inning.

“I felt it was a good pitch, away, and he went the other way and found the line," said Soria. “A good pitch, a great hitter and it happened."

The game was knotted 2-2 when Soria entered -- a non-save situation.

He discounted the notion that a save being on the line makes a difference to him.

“I try to do my best every time," Soria said.

Speaking of Soria in his pregame media session, Washington addressed the save/non-save question.

“You might have guys that use [non-save pitching] as a reason. I'd say totally not with Joakim," Washington said. "Because he’s the ultimate pro.

“These guys, you think they’re automatic. But sometimes they have to work at it."

Beltre makes sure Rangers hold on

June, 27, 2014
Jun 27
11:49
PM CT
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Adrian Beltre's sacrifice fly in the eighth inning looked ho-hum enough.

A 4-0 Texas Rangers lead over the Minnesota Twins became 5-0, making the add-on run more than likely just a matter of bookkeeping.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Beltre
APhoto/Tony GutierrezAdrian Beltre watches his two-run homer in the first inning. It was Beltre's sacrifice fly later that proved to be the difference.
"But you learn to never throw an at-bat away," said Beltre, a veteran of 16 major league seasons. His sacrifice fly to center, following singles by Elvis Andrus and Carlos Pena, proved to vital when the Twins scored four in the ninth and put the tying run at third with one out.

The extra run turned out to be the one that snapped Texas' eight-game losing streak. The Rangers held on, 5-4.

"You don't know how the game will end so you have to take the same approach every time," said Beltre, who drove in three of the Rangers' five runs. "It is always nice to end a losing streak."

Beltre, serving on this night as designated hitter instead of patrolling his usual spot at third base, had to watch the Minnesota rally unfold from the Rangers' dugout.

"Even though it got a little exciting at the end, we won the game," he said. "But it is a little harder to watch than play in a situation like that."

Beltre's two-run home run in the first inning got the Rangers going in the right direction.

Texas pitcher Nick Tepesch, who turned in a gem to improve to 3-3, said the early runs played a role in his success.

Shin-Soo Choo, making a return to the leadoff spot, opened with a single and scored ahead of Beltre's blast. Choo had three hits, including an RBI double.

"I don't change my approach so I don't think it makes a difference where I hit," Choo said. "I've had a couple of seasons where I've hit third. But I have been leading off the last two years, so it feels a little bit like coming home."

In 17 previous starts, a slumping Choo batted third in the Rangers' order.

Manager Ron Washington, who seems to have a knack for getting results with a lineup change, said he felt like it was time to shake it up and get Choo back to the top.

Even with relief ace Joakim Soria struggling in the ninth, Washington said he was counting on his closer to work out of trouble.

"Closers usually do," the manager said.

Soria ended the game with a strikeout and a groundout.

Rapid Reaction: Rangers 5, Twins 4

June, 27, 2014
Jun 27
10:21
PM CT

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Texas Rangers snapped an eight-game losing streak -- their longest in nine seasons -- with a very welcomed 5-4 victory over the Minnesota Twins before 38,111 Friday night at Globe Life Park.

Nick Tepesch limited the Twins to three hits in 7 1/3 shutout innings and Adrian Beltre staked the Rangers to a lead they would not relinquish with a two-run home run in the first inning. The win was the first for the Rangers (36-43) since outscoring the Oakland Athletics 14-8 on June 16.

Texas took a 5-0 lead into the ninth, but nothing comes easy for the Rangers. The Twins scored four and had the tying run at third with one out when Joakim Soria wiggled out of it with a strikeout and a ground ball.

A few observations:

Streak-breaker: Responsibility for breaking a long losing streak first has to go to the starting pitcher, and Tepesch (3-3) delivered. In addition to limiting the Twins to only three singles, he walked two and hit a batter. Of his 106 pitches, 67 were strikes.

In preparing the Globe Life Park infield minutes before the first pitch, grounds crew head man Dennis Klein made sure to give the dirt area in front of home plate a heavy soaking. Tepesch showed it to be a wise move, inducing 12 ground ball outs.

A key moment for Tepesch occurred in the fourth inning, and it didn’t involve a ground ball. Nursing a 2-0 lead, he slipped a third strike past Eduardo Escobar with two outs and the bases loaded, one of five punchouts for the 25-year-old.

On a roll: Beltre continued his torrid June, staking the Rangers to a 2-0 lead in the first inning with a 381-foot, line-drive home run into the Texas bullpen. Beltre came into the game on a 9-for-14 streak over four games that saw his batting average climb 19 points to .325. An eighth-inning sacrifice fly gave him three RBIs for the night.

The home run was Beltre’s ninth, good for sole possession of the team lead -- one more than Michael Choice. All but one of Beltre’s home runs have come off right-handers.

A little D: The defensive play of the night came courtesy of second baseman Rougned Odor. The rookie speared a wicked one-hopper off the bat of Kendrys Morales in the second inning and almost made it look routine.

Relief is on the way: Needing to get only five outs thanks to Tepesch working into the eighth, Jason Frasor and Neal Cotts proved they haven’t forgotten how to pitch with a late-inning lead, but a rusty Soria struggled in a nonsave situation in the ninth.

Let’s get it started: Shin-Soo Choo, returning to the leadoff spot for the first time in 18 games, responded with a superb night at the plate. Choo lined singles in his first two trips and drove in the Rangers’ fourth run by crashing a double off the left-field wall. Choo scored ahead of Beltre’s homer in the first to give Texas a quick 2-0 lead.

Coming along: Look for switch-hitting Luis Sardinas to get more playing time as he continues to impress at the plate. The rookie infielder came into Friday’s game batting .370 over his past 10 games. He lined an opposite-field RBI double in the fourth inning.

Up next: The Rangers and Twins tangle in the middle game of the three-game series at 3:05 p.m. on Saturday at Globe Life Park. Rangers ace Yu Darvish (7-4, 2.62 ERA) will go against Phil Hughes (8-3, 3.40 ERA) on ESPN 103.3 FM.

Rangers brass meets to address issues

June, 26, 2014
Jun 26
8:46
PM CT
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The timing of Thursday’s meeting of the Texas Rangers brass couldn’t have come at a better time.

Heading into the evening, the Rangers had lost a season-high seven consecutive games and were trying to avoid being swept by the Detroit Tigers at Globe Life Park.

It’s been a season filled with injuries and inconsistent play. Hitting and pitching have been inconsistent.

Ron Washington said the meeting was held to make sure everybody is on the same page.

“We haven’t thrown in the towel,” the manager said.

“Just making sure that we stay the course that’s all,” Washington added. “Nothing changed; making sure we stay the course. And we all wanted to know what we’re thinking, that’s what this is.”

Washington said the Rangers will continue to play young players because ... well, let’s be honest, there isn’t anybody else around.

Washington’s roster is limited.

Prince Fielder isn’t returning this season. Derek Holland won’t return until July. Matt Harrison is done for the year. Jurickson Profar is getting ready for winter ball.

The roster general manager Jon Daniels put together in the winter is vastly different at this stage of the summer.

“The challenge for us, we can’t keep talking about the injuries. We can’t focus on that,” Daniels said. “There are a lot of things we need to do. The story of the year can’t be the injuries; it’s very real.”

Daniels is right about forging ahead with the season.

In terms of a trade, Daniels said his staff has fielded calls but nothing solid is going to occur right now.

Whom do you trade, anyway?

Adrian Beltre, who has a limited no-trade clause?

Alex Rios?

Elvis Andrus?

Yu Darvish?

Joakim Soria?

Daniels said the season has been hard to watch. Both he and Washington like the effort from this club and said that after the success the Rangers have achieved the past few years, this down period is strange.

“Listen, we’ve struggled the last week or so. And I think every day you dig deeper into the season, you have more information,” Daniels said. “But we don’t have to declare anything; we don’t have to go down that path.

“At the same time, we’re going to use the next month or so to evaluate where we are, and we have to do our due diligence and understand what are options are, too. But like any other team, we’re talking to teams right now to get a layout [and] understand the landscape of where the possible fits might be. Whether we choose to act on that, I don’t know.”

Next week in Baltimore the Rangers will reach the halfway point of their season. It’s a season that has tested the patience of their manager, coaching staff, front office and, of course, ownership.

At some point things must change for the better; if not, their playoff run will come to an end.

W2W4: Rangers vs. Detroit Tigers

June, 25, 2014
Jun 25
12:00
PM CT
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Rangers (35-41) currently have the longest losing streak in the majors at six games and just two AL teams, Houston (33-45) and Tampa Bay (31-48), have fewer wins than the Rangers.

The three-game series with the Detroit Tigers at Globe Life Park continues Wednesday night.

Here’s a preview:

Fixing the offense: Ron Washington inserted Carlos Pena into the No. 6 spot Tuesday night and he went 0-for-4. Washington has used nine different players in the six hole this season and employed 58 different lineups. The lack of run support recently, 11 runs in the last five games, is hurting the Rangers during this six-game losing streak. Washington is open to keeping Pena, a left-handed hitter, in the lineup again against righty Anibal Sanchez.

Saunders seeks a win: Lefty Joe Saunders (0-3) gets the start Wednesday night and seeks his first win of the season. The Rangers are 2-4 in his starts. Saunders went 4 2/3 innings allowing seven runs, four earned in a 7-3 loss to the Los Angeles Angels on June 20.

Beltre getting hot?: Third baseman Adrian Beltre hit just .229 on the Rangers' recent nine-game road trip. Tuesday night, Beltre hit the ball hard, getting four hits, including a RBI single in the third inning. With the Rangers seeking offense, could Beltre be the answer?

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DETROIT -- Routine means everything for Joakim Soria these days. Life as a closer is tough enough, not knowing when you might get in a game to get those final three outs. But it becomes more of a challenge when you're not pitching much.

Soria saved the Rangers' win over the Mariners on Wednesday, his first save since May 2. He's made some appearances to try to keep sharp, but that's not the same thing as saving games.

"What I do in BP and my throwing program is important," Soria said. "I keep my arm lose and strong by doing those things. What tends to happen is you go stretches where you don't have saves and then they all hit at once. I just have to be ready."

Soria has eight saves, and in those saves hitters are 0-for-25 with no walks and seven strikeouts. He says having been in the league for a while has helped him find out exactly what he needs to do to keep himself mentally and physically prepared.

"You learn what works and what doesn't," Soria said.

Robertson OK: The big question for outfielder Daniel Robertson is whether he can avoid a DL stint. Robertson said Friday that an ENT doctor had cleared him to play, but he still had swelling in his face, where he had three small fractures near his eye. But all the tests checked out. Robertson will have to wear a facemask once he does get back in the lineup.

"Like Rip Hamilton did," Robertson said. "I'll get an intimidating-looking one."

Change up: Nick Martinez said he's working on throwing his changeup for strikes more often. Martinez, who worked on the pitch the past few years, had a lot of success with it in the minors, many times as a swing-and-miss pitch.

"But up here, they lay off it and take it for a ball," Martinez said. "I'm throwing it but not getting as many strikes as I need to. It needs to catch a little more of the zone."

Martinez is 0-1 with a 2.28 ERA this season and has joined the rotation. He'll pitch tonight against the Tigers and Rick Porcello. Martinez said he's been pleased with his command, which, like everybody else, is crucial.

"If I can command the fastball, my other pitches get better," Martinez said.
Mike Maddux, Yu Darvish, Chris GimenezRick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsCatcher Chris Gimenez, left, "let me do whatever I wanted to do," Yu Darvish said.

DETROIT -- Yu Darvish had a new catcher Thursday, one who seemed intent on making the Texas Rangers’ ace happy.

Chris Gimenez helped navigate Darvish, who essentially calls his own game anyway, through seven innings in a 9-2 victory over the Detroit Tigers. Oh, and the 31-year-old gave the pitcher more than just support behind the plate -- Gimenez had four hits in his second game as a Ranger.

“Not only is he a great player, but he's a great person,” Darvish said through an interpreter. “He let me do whatever I wanted to do, so I felt good.”

The “let me do whatever I wanted to do” worked just fine Thursday. Darvish wasn’t at his best -- he admitted that after the game -- but he made the pitches he needed to early and was ahead 9-0 going into the bottom of the fourth.

Gimenez talked with Darvish before the game, going over the tendencies of the hitters, but it wasn't some drawn-out discussion or a huge meet-and-greet session. Darvish is in his third year in the major leagues. He has a better sense of the hitters, pitching coach Mike Maddux has a better sense of Darvish's skills, and there's a plan put in place. Gimenez and Darvish followed it Thursday and held one of the best offenses in the game to just two runs on six hits. He did it despite three walks and six strikeouts and without his dominating stuff.

"He's going to do what he wants to do," said Gimenez, who previously played with Cleveland, Seattle and Tampa Bay before landing with Texas. "I was trying to be on the same page. We did have a couple of chats. I've watched a bunch of video on him to try to get a feel for him in certain situations and what's his go-to pitch. He threw a lot of fastballs. He did a good job of challenging them."

Gimenez said he was trying to gauge how Darvish's ball moves and now has a better idea. So what about the slider?

"It's disgusting," Gimenez said. "He could tell you he's going to throw it and you'd still get out."

Gimenez joked that he was thankful he "didn't screw anything up."

He added that his four hits were just an afterthought. His focus was making sure Darvish was comfortable -- and he certainly did a good job of that.

Martin feels better, plays: Rangers outfielder Leonys Martin said he felt better Thursday, but was held out of the lineup initially because Detroit had a left-hander on the mound. But when Daniel Robertson went out in the third inning after of a collision with Alex Rios, Martin entered the game. He was 2-for-4 and said he felt good.

Soria getting it done with limited activity: Joakim Soria hasn't exactly had a bunch of chances to save games so far this season, but when the right-hander has taken the mound in the ninth, he has done the job, notching eight saves in eight chances. Rangers manager Ron Washington said he sees the Soria who was an All-Star in 2010 with the Kansas City Royals before rehabbing from a second Tommy John surgery.

"He can hit a gnat," Washington said. "He's got tremendous command. He pitches. He doesn't just go out there and overpower you. He pitches. It's the same one that was in Kansas City. He may not have the velocity, but he can still command that baseball."

Minor league stint gets Baker ready: Scott Baker is set to become the latest Rangers pitcher to take the mound as member of the rotation, slated for Friday night against Anibal Sanchez and the Tigers.

Baker, 32, said he didn't have the kind of spring training he wanted because he wasn't using his lower body properly. The right-hander made the mechanical adjustment while playing for Triple-A Round Rock early this season and watched his fastball command vastly improve.

"I got out of whack and when that happens with me, it affects all my pitches," Baker said. "Once you make that adjustment, it allows you to be more crisp. I have to make sure I put myself in a good position to make all my pitches."

Bullpen responds for Rangers

May, 21, 2014
May 21
6:00
PM CT
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Rangers pitcher Robbie Ross Jr. had to change his mindset from demoted starter to dependable reliever.

The majors is no place to sit and reflect on what might have been, so when manager Ron Washington summoned Ross to relieve Nick Tepesch in the seventh inning on Wednesday afternoon, he had to be ready to get out of a jam.

Ross was able to entice Seattle pinch-hitter Stefen Romero to bounce into a 5-3 double play to end a threat.

"It's just like you try to go out there and remember this stuff you did last year and get ready to do it," Ross said of returning to the pen. "At the same time, you get amped up all over again, I feel like. I was pretty amped, especially going into a situation like that, because I was really trying to go out there and help (Tepesch) out and help us win."

Ross wasn't alone in his strong work from the bullpen. Neal Cotts recorded two strikeouts in the eighth and Joakim Soria closed out the game in the ninth, earning his eighth save of the season in a 4-3 victory.

"We kept the lead," said Soria, who is eight for eight in save opportunities. "We gave a chance to our offense to score runs, and we got the win. It's tough when you come from starting pitcher to reliever. You love what you do and Robbie does, and it's no problem to him to go back to the bullpen or back to the rotation."
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Rangers needed this.

The entire season has been all about injuries, ineffective play and underachievement.

Following the 4-3 victory over Seattle on Wednesday, the talk was about building on winning two of the final three games on a five-game homestand and dealing with the possibility of not having Prince Fielder for an extended period of time.

Fielder didn't leave with the team for Detroit on Wednesday afternoon to begin a four-game series against one of the best teams in baseball, his former team. Fielder (neck) will see Dr. Drew Dossett on Thursday with the hope he can return at some point this weekend.

"We have to continue to do the same thing," said shortstop Elvis Andrus, whose two-run homer gave the Rangers an early 2-0 lead. "We have to be aggressive. We have to try and score first. And every time we score first, we play better. We control the game, especially the next team we're going to play.

"[The Tigers are] playing great baseball, and for us to maintain and score first it's going to help us a lot."

The Rangers got a solid outing from starter Nick Tepesch, who allowed three runs on five hits in 6 1/3 innings while tossing a career-high 112 pitches. His only mistake was a pitch to Robinson Cano that was hit fpr a home run over 400 feet to tie the score at 3.

Tepesch settled down and convinced manager Ron Washington to keep him in the game to face Dustin Ackley with one out in the seventh. Tepesch walked John Buck and Washington had seen enough. He took Tepesch out and used recently demoted starter Robbie Ross to face Stefen Romero.

On two pitches, Ross was able to get Romero out on a double play on a ball hit to Adrian Beltre at third.

The rest of the Rangers bullpen maintained the lead. Joakim Soria closed out the ninth for his eighth save.

But now the Rangers visit the Detroit Tigers for four games and will be minus Fielder, at least on Thursday. Staff ace Yu Darvish goes in Game 1 with the objective to start a win streak for a Rangers team that has won consecutive times just twice this month.

"He's a big part of our team," right fielder Alex Rios said of Fielder. "When he's out there, he makes a huge difference. He makes our lineup so much stronger. Hopefully, we can get him back, but right now we're focusing on what we have to do."
HOUSTON -- Tanner Scheppers threw 25-30 pitches Tuesday afternoon, but he’s not sure when he’ll be ready to pitch for the Rangers.

Or what role he’ll have when he returns.

“I don’t think I have guarantees on this staff,” Scheppers said. “I don’t think I showed anything to prove me to be a guaranteed starter.

“I wasn't fully healthy when I was throwing. I was throwing through some stuff. Hopefully, they put that into the equations, but it’s out of my control.”

Scheppers is 0-1 with a 9.82 ERA this season. He’s allowed 27 hits in 18 and one-third innings with only 13 strikeouts and eight walks.

And he’s allowed four homers. He allowed six all of last season.

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W2W4: Top-2 AL West teams in Arlington

April, 28, 2014
Apr 28
12:00
PM CT
Yu DarvishLisa Blumenfeld/Getty ImagesWill the Rangers be able to score more runs against the A's with Yu Darvish on the mound?
For the second time in a week, the Texas Rangers will face the Oakland A's in a three-game series. This one is at Globe Life Park in Arlington, the first time the A's have played in Arlington this season. A few things to watch during the series:

* Yu Darvish gets another crack at Oakland. The Rangers' ace faces RHP Sonny Gray in the series opener tonight after going six innings last week in Oakland, allowing three runs on eight hits with four walks and six strikeouts. It wasn't Darvish at his best, but it was good enough for a no-decision in a 4-3 win. Still, Darvish's career numbers against Oakland aren't pretty. He won his first career start against the A's, but is 0-6 with a 4.89 ERA in his last seven starts.

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* Run support. In those last seven starts for Darvish against Oakland (0-6 record), the Rangers have scored two or fewer runs in five of the six defeats. This season in four starts (28 innings), Darvish has five runs of support -- a 1.61 average. Can the Rangers score enough runs to get a win?

* Scoreless streak. Can Martin Perez continue his assault on the Rangers' record book? He has 26 consecutive scoreless innings. The club record is 39 by Kenny Rogers in 1995. But Perez has another streak going: two straight complete game shutouts. He's the first to do that in the AL since teammate Derek Holland pulled off the feat in 2011. He's one of only eight pitchers since 1992 to throw two shutouts while allowing three or fewer hits. That list includes Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine and Matt Cain.

* Pitching matchups. Of the six pitchers scheduled to start in this series, the one with the highest ERA is Robbie Ross at 2.45. That should make runs at a premium and set up for a fun three games involving a trio of starters on each side that has started the season well.

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Shawn TollesonKelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsShawn Tolleson is one of several relievers who have made the pen an early bright spot for Texas.

So much for conventional wisdom. April in the American League West is yet another reminder of why you have to play the games before you can truly figure out where everyone stands. It's not a surprise that the top three teams in this division are the Texas Rangers, Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Angels. On paper, those are the three best teams. Sure, the Seattle Mariners improved during the offseason, but it takes more than one $240 million player to compete with the trio at the top over the long haul.

What is surprising is how the Rangers have managed to win games despite all of their injuries. We've talked a bunch about this club's supersubs and how this rotation has come together. Heck, on Tuesday, the Rangers were playing with Michael Choice at leadoff, Josh Wilson and Donnie Murphy in the lineup and a Double-A spot starter on the mound. And they won.

But there's another big reason for the club's early success: the bullpen. Texas has put together a group that is confident and comfortable in their roles, while Oakland's relief corps, considered one of the best in baseball, hasn't looked as good as billed, especially in the ninth.

Consider how good the Athletics' record might be if they hadn't blown six saves. Six! On the season, they have more blown saves than saves (five). Only the Chicago White Sox have a worse percentage in the league. This is a case in which the other numbers look better than they appear. Oakland's pen has a 2.55 ERA, second in the league. The A's are holding opponents to a .198 batting average against, the best in the league. But the relievers throw the second-most pitches per inning in the AL, and in crunch time -- when you need those final three outs in the ninth -- they haven't consistently done the job. Jim Johnson was moved out of the closer's role, and replacement Luke Gregerson hasn't found his rhythm. The A's were in position to win the first two games of their recent series with Texas and couldn't close the deal. They had Wilson, a backup utility infielder, down to his final strike in the ninth Tuesday and still lost the game.

The Rangers' bullpen doesn't have the gaudy numbers of the A's'. The Rangers are in the middle of the AL in ERA, nearly two runs higher than the A's. Opponents are hitting .259 off them. But Texas also has the third-most holds in the league, has blown only two saves and has a quartet of pitchers who are nailing games down late in winning or close situations. Jason Frasor, Neal Cotts, Alexi Ogando and Joakim Soria have delivered. Others are contributing in key spots, too: Shawn Tolleson was called upon to keep things tight Tuesday and did so, allowing the Rangers a chance to make the comeback in the ninth.

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W2W4: Rangers' first trip to Oakland

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
1:00
PM CT
RangersTom Pennington/Getty ImagesWill Kevin Kouzmanoff and Prince Fielder's bats stay hot as the Rangers head to Oakland?
The Texas Rangers and Oakland A's face each other for the first three games of 19 between the two this season. The A's are the two-time defending AL West champions and once again find themselves at the top of the division. The Rangers, thanks to a solid homestand, are right with the A's, making this series particularly interesting this early in the season. A few things to watch:

* Bullpens. Oakland has had one of the best bullpens in the big leagues for years, but it's gone through some flux this year. Still, the A's relief ERA is second to the Red Sox in the AL. Jim Johnson lost his closer job after a rough start, but the A's have cobbled together enough arms to get the job done. The Rangers' bullpen had a slow start, but has come on of late as players have figured out their roles. Alexi Ogando has improved and has provided some late-inning relief to get the game to closer Joakim Soria. If these games are close -- and they should be -- watch those bullpens.

* Yu Darvish. The Rangers' ace goes Monday to lead off the series in a place where he hasn't had much success. In two starts in Oakland (one in each of the last two years), Darvish is 0-2 with a 9.58 ERA. Walks have been the biggest reason as he's had 12 in those two starts (10 1/3 innings) and three homers allowed. He has just eight strikeouts in those outings.

* Run support. Darvish has allowed just two runs in 22 innings this season and has just two runs of support. Can the offense give him a little more to work with in Oakland? Two of the hitters that bother Darvish the most are Alberto Callaspo and Brandon Moss, who are both hitting over .300 in their careers off Darvish.

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Stock Report: Bullpen up, offense down

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
8:00
AM CT
ARLINGTON, Texas -- It's Friday and that means we take stock of how various parts of the Texas Rangers have done over the past week.

STOCK UP

Streaking
Bullpen. After a shaky start to the season, the bullpen seems to have jelled into a cohesive group that has fairly defined roles. Alexi Ogando, who struggled in the spring so much that he lost his starting job and began the season poorly, has come around and is looking a little more like the guy who pitched so well in relief a few years ago. Jason Frasor brings a veteran presence. Joakim Soria has closing experience and even pitchers who the club is still figuring out -- such as Pedro Figueroa and Shawn Tolleson -- have improved in the past week. The group has some more confidence.

Kevin Kouzmanoff. So far, he's filled in very well for the injured Adrian Beltre, who can not return until April 25 thanks to a disabled list stint because of his strained left quad. Kouzmanoff has hit safely in every game he has played in a Rangers uniform and has shown a penchant for extra-base hits. Few can defend at third base like Beltre, but Kouzmanoff has done a solid job in the field.

Walk-offs. The Rangers have had four this season and two in this current homestand. Robinson Chirinos was the hero April 11 against Houston, a 1-0 win in 12 innings and Leonys Martin delivered an RBI single in the ninth Wednesday. Both walk-off wins in this homestand occurred in Yu Darvish starts.

Leonys Martin. He did it all during the Mariners series. He played solid defense, delivered a game-winning hit and has become a terrific bunter. The only thing he didn't do was yell loud enough (or low enough) for Shin-Soo Choo to hear him Wednesday on a pop fly to center. Martin is making a difference in the bottom of the order.

STOCK DOWN

Slumping

Hitting with runners in scoring position. It has not been a strong suit for this team, though they were a bit better in those situations Thursday. Still, the team is 11-for-71 (.155) with runners in scoring position in the past eight games.

Offensive catchers. The Rangers aren't getting much offensive production from their catchers. J.P. Arencibia had two RBIs Thursday but neither came on hits. He's hitting .071 on the season and Chirinos is batting .160. That doesn't mean the catchers haven't played well in other facets, but as far as hitting goes, it has not been solid.

Defense. The Rangers lead the AL with 15 errors in 16 games. And in the Seattle series alone they had a few other mistakes that weren't scored errors (but perhaps could have been). This team still isn't as crisp as manager Ron Washington would like it with the gloves or their arms, though middle infielders Josh Wilson and Donnie Murphy have done a good job filling in when out there.

Tanner Scheppers. Big innings have cost Scheppers in three of his four starts and it was a six-run third that ended his afternoon Thursday (the bullpen and offense bailed him out). We'll see if he gets another shot to start when it's his turn in the rotation Tuesday, but he's got to find a way to minimize damage.

Rapid Reaction: Rangers 8, Mariners 6

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
4:35
PM CT
ARLINGTON, Texas -- It was a strange day at Globe Life Park as neither starting pitcher could do much of anything. The Rangers had a 4-0 lead, lost it and then managed to snag the advantage back in the fifth and hang on for an 8-6 victory. Texas takes three out of four from the Mariners in the process and has won three straight games for the first time since the last week of the regular season in 2013, when they won seven straight to force Game 163. It's also the first time this season the Rangers have been two games above .500. Some thoughts:

Big inning hurts Scheppers (again): Tanner Scheppers couldn't get through the third inning Thursday. After talking about the need to minimize damage when a five-run inning hurt him in his last start, Scheppers wasn't able to do it. Staked to a 4-0 lead, he gave it all back in two swings -- consecutive home runs from Robinson Cano (his first with the Mariners this season) and Corey Hart. Scheppers ended up allowing six runs (two scored with Hector Noesi on the mound) on six hits in his outing with three walks and two strikeouts. He's allowed 20 runs this season and 17 of those have come in three big innings -- two six-run innings and a five-run inning.

First-inning runs: The Rangers came into Thursday's game with three first-inning runs all season. They scored three with two outs to give Scheppers the lead. After an Elvis Andrus double, Alex Rios struck out for the second out. The Mariners walked Prince Fielder intentionally to pitch to the red-hot Kevin Kouzmanoff. It didn't work. Kouzmanoff doubled to drive home the first run. Mitch Moreland then delivered a two-out, two-run single to center to make it 3-0.

Two-strike hits: All four runs scored in the first two innings by the Rangers came on two-strike counts. Texas came into the game batting .208 in those situations, good enough for third in the AL (two teams have .209 averages). The Rangers increased that average Thursday and did it early. The most impressive at-bat came from Kouzmanoff, who fell behind 0-2, worked it back to 2-2 and hit the eighth pitch for a double. The Rangers also had a two-strike bunt by Leonys Martin in the third that helped score a run when J.P. Arencibia grounded out to the left side of the infield, scoring Moreland.

Kouzmanoff hot: The Rangers' fill-in third baseman just continues to hit, increasing his streak of hitting safely to eight games (that's all that he's played in a Rangers uniform). Kouzmanoff hit doubles in his first two at-bats and has three multi-hit games since getting called up. The Mariners walked Fielder twice to pitch to Kouzmanoff. It didn't work in the first, but it did in the seventh.

Fielder can't cash in: The slugger got two chances with runners in scoring position Thursday and wasn't able to convert. The struggling slugger is now 2-for-19 with runners in scoring position this season. One of those chances came with the count already at two strikes. Rios, who has vowed to stay aggressive on the bases even with Fielder hitting behind him, stole second base and went to third on an errant throw by catcher John Buck.

Relief respect: The Rangers bullpen pitched 6 2/3 innings Thursday and didn't allow a run. Hector Noesi gave up some hard hits, but both of the runs he gave up were inherited runners charged to Scheppers. Pedro Figueroa, Jason Frasor, Alexi Ogando and Joakim Soria got the job done.

Small ball: Martin was asked to put down sacrifice bunts twice Thursday with runners at first and second. He converted both times, and Arencibia, behind him, hit ground balls to score a run in each frame. The bunt eliminated the chance at a double play and Arencibia did what he had to by hitting the ball on the ground. The average won't be helped, but the catcher did his job in those situations.

Up next: The Chicago White Sox come to town with LHP Martin Perez (2-0, 2.70 ERA) opposing RHP Felipe Paulino (0-1, 7.98 ERA) at 7:05 p.m. on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM and TXA21.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Yu Darvish
WINS ERA SO IP
8 2.97 142 115
OTHER LEADERS
BAA. Beltre .336
HRA. Beltre 12
RBIA. Beltre 49
RE. Andrus 49
OPSA. Beltre .912
ERAY. Darvish 2.97
SOY. Darvish 142