HOUSTON -- The strike zone Friday night was mostly an enigma to Neftali Feliz, who threw more balls than strikes before he exited in the fifth inning.
But the pitching constant this season for the Texas Rangers has been the bullpen, and, though overworked this week, the group delivered yet again.
Three relievers allowed only one hit in 4 1/3 innings, and Joe Nathan nailed down a save while working for a fourth consecutive day as the Rangers opened the Lone Star Series with a 4-1 victory over Houston.
Adrian Beltre homered and drove in the Rangers' first and final runs as they won for the ninth time in their past 10 games at Minute Maid Park. Ten of the Rangers' 11 hits came against Wandy Rodriguez, who entered with a 1.99 ERA.
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The Rangers' bullpen has an ERA of 2.20, second in the American League, as Robbie Ross, Koji Uehara and Nathan blanked the Astros after Feliz departed one out shy of a victory.
"Outstanding," manager Ron Washington said. "We needed Robbie to come in and do what he did. We certainly needed Koji, and Joe for the fourth day showed that he certainly has a resilient arm."
Feliz never seemed comfortable despite being staked to leads of 2-0 and 3-1, and never tossed a 1-2-3 inning as he piled up the pitches.
His best chance for a perfect frame was in the fourth, but that went away when he walked Rodriguez, the pitcher who was 0 for 16, on four pitches with two outs.
That prompted a visit and a talking-to from Washington, but the results were only temporary. The next inning opened with a walk to Jose Altuve and a two-out pass to Jed Lowrie that sent Washington to the mound again.
He stayed this time, and Feliz was finished at 101 pitches. Fifty-one of those were wide of the strike zone as he struggled to command his pitches for the second time this month.
The first time was May1 at Toronto, when he walked six in five innings. He issued five walks and hit a batter Friday, but said there isn't a common link between the two outings.
"I wasn't able to do what I wanted to do tonight," said Feliz, who struck out six but allowed just the one run on three hits.
"Just keep working hard and go out there every day and work at it until it's fixed. I've got to get ahead in the count. That's the main thing I was struggling with."
Ross improved to 5-0 with 2 1/3 scoreless innings. He bailed Feliz out of the fifth-inning jam by getting Brian Bogusevic to roll into a fielder's choice, and allowed only a single to Chris Johnson to start the sixth.
Uehara entered in a role that was the reason he was acquired last season, to protect a close game. He breezed through the eighth before Nathan worked a perfect ninth.
Don't expect to see him go for a fifth straight game tonight.
"This is what you put the work in for, to get to this moment and get your arm this strong and to go out there and not have people worry about throwing you too many times out there," said Nathan, who hadn't pitched on four straight days since Sept. 13-16, 2009. "This is what I've been taught, to keep going out there and doing what the team needs."
The Rangers scored twice in the third, an inning that started with a double by Ian Kinsler, who scored two batters later on a sacrifice fly by Beltre. Nelson Cruz singled in Josh Hamilton after Michael Young had walked.
Houston got one run back in the bottom half, on an infield hit, but Young brought in Beltre with a single in the fifth and Beltre hit a two-out solo blast in the seventh.
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760