ARLINGTON — Not exactly the way they drew it up in February, was it?Robinson Chirinos behind the plate, Kevin Kouzmanoff and Josh Wilson on the left side of the infield, and Donnie Murphy driving in the winning run.And if the Texas Rangers want to add lefty Martin Perez, who just turned 23, throwing eight poised and scoreless innings to the list of Sunday’s unexpecteds, they probably can make a case for that as well.Much ink is spilled and vast gobs of Internet bandwidth exhausted during spring training by us media hyenas, as we seek to decipher who the roster’s 23rd, 24th and 25th names will be.But as the Rangers reminded Sunday in a crisply executed 1-0 victory over the Houston Astros, those last few roster spots can make a mighty impact, too.“No doubt about it,” manager Ron Washington said after the game. “We got Murphy on the last day of spring training. We had Wilson from the start, so we had a chance to see what Josh was about.“Those two guys have been a savior up the middle. You can see today — they played the heck out of some defense. And I love that.”Murphy, Wilson and Chirinos all contributed key defensive plays in Sunday’s win.Behind the plate, Chirinos threw out two Astros at second base on attempted steals. One of the throws came on a Perez pitch that bounced.A year ago, Murphy was wearing the uniform of the Triple A Iowa Cubs. The Rangers are the sixth major league team that he’s played for.Wilson played last season with Reno Aces of the Pacific Coast League. This is his eighth big-league team.Kouzmanoff is with his fifth MLB team and played last season for the Triple A New Orleans Zephyrs. Manning third base in place of injured Adrian Beltre, Kouzmanoff has five hits in the four games since he was called up.He’s not trying to be Beltre 2.0, he said.“Those are big shoes to fill,” Kouzmanoff said. “I just want to go out there and do the best I can.”The old bromide is justified in this case. But Washington appreciates what Kouzmanoff has been able to do.“Kevin Kouzmanoff is a professional,” Washington said. “He knows how to play.“Those three [Kouzmanoff, Wilson and Murphy] have come in handy for us. Certainly there were other guys that we expected to be out there, but they’ve stepped in and done a good job. I’ve got to give them credit. But I never doubted the job they’d do on the defensive end.”If the past two months have taught the Rangers anything, it’s that stuff happens. All-Star third basemen strain leg muscles. Starting catchers tear knee cartilage. Pitchers can trip over dogs.Nobody in the clubhouse is saying it, but the key to the rest of the season lies in surviving the month of April. If injuries and slow starts haven’t scuttled their chances by May 1, the Rangers will be healthier and deeper — especially in the bullpen — when the playoff chase finally does begin.Perez, one year older and wiser, is going to be a key part of that. His performance Sunday, scattering only five singles over eight innings, further solidified his role in the starting rotation. Perez has induced nine ground-ball double plays over his last two starts.Washington credited it to “executing, keeping the ball in the bottom of the zone, which is what he does very well. He’s perfected his changeup and he’s able to throw his curveball when he’s behind in the count.“He just continues to grow. And once again, we’re watching it in front of our eyes.”The Rangers need it. There are, after all, big shoes to fill.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton