July 2, 2012

Rangers have relied on big innings but want a more consistent offense

During the Texas Rangers' recent five-game winning streak, they had come-from-behind wins in four of them, scoring four or more runs in an inning each game.

Matt Harrison never had a losing thought cross his mind on Friday. He had given up single runs in the fourth and fifth, and the Oakland Athletics were riding rookie A.J. Griffin through six scoreless innings and had a 2-0 lead going into the eighth.

But Harrison knew the Texas Rangers' offense would eventually break through with what is becoming their trademark big inning. They had a four-run inning the previous night in a 7-6 victory over the Athletics. They had four-run innings the two nights before that, too.

"It's hard for any pitcher, I don't care how much experience you have in the game, to shut this offense down for nine innings," Harrison said. "It's one of the best lineups in the game. As long as you can stay in there as long as possible, you're going to get that opportunity to get a win."

Harrison did that by working eight innings, long enough for the offense to score four runs in the bottom of the eighth and put him in line for his 11th victory.

The big inning has been carrying the Rangers of late. During their five-game winning streak Tuesday through Saturday, they had come-from-behind wins in four of them, scoring four or more runs in an inning each game. If the pitching staff can keep the game within striking distance, the odds are in the Rangers' favor.

It didn't happen on Sunday night against Oakland, but Texas had its chances. Rangers runners were picked off twice early in the game, and they couldn't capitalize on scoring opportunities in the sixth and eighth.

Manager Ron Washington wants to see the offense produce more consistently. The big innings are nice, of course, but the team should be able to scratch out runs along the way.

Washington points to the Rangers' inefficiencies with a runner on third and less than two outs. He considers driving that runner in a fundamental part of the game, something that batters should be able to accomplish even if they're in a slump.

But the Rangers haven't produced consistently in those situations, notably Mike Napoli and Michael Young this past homestand.

Napoli came up with a runner on third and less than two outs twice on Friday and once on Saturday. He struck out all three times. With the Rangers trailing by a run in the fifth inning on Thursday, Young was up with runners at second and third and no outs, and popped up to the first baseman in foul territory.

Even though the Rangers went on to win those games, those are moments that could lead to a loss just as easily.

"We've got to get better at executing," Washington said. "All that is is putting the ball in play and we've been striking out in those situations. We haven't put the ball in play. When we do put it in play, we've been putting it in play very weakly to the wrong part of the field.

"If we start executing those times, we'll start picking up runs here or there. We feel like we'll have a big inning when we put some runs on the board, but those should be insurance runs."

For now, though, the pitching staff realizes how the offense is operating, and Roy Oswalt believes starters should be focused on quality starts.

A quality start, in Oswalt's mind, is allowing two or three runs over seven or eight innings instead of the standard three over six.

"As a starting pitcher, your job is to eat up innings," Oswalt said. "If you throw 200 innings a year, you're in every ballgame. That means you're going six or seven innings, and keeping the game close."

That's good enough for the Rangers batters, as long as they're within reach of winning the game.

Ian Kinsler and the rest of the Rangers aren't too concerned how they win, either. They have a versatile offense that is capable of driving the ball out of the ballpark or, as they did in Thursday's 7-6 win over the A's, scoring four runs with one ball leaving the infield.

"We can score in a lot of different ways, we're definitely aware of that and definitely proud of it," Kinsler said. "Honestly, we don't care how it happens. We're not going to go, 'Aw, man, we had another big inning. We need to score more consistently.'

"Our goal is to score more runs than the other team every day."

Drew Davison, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @drewdavison

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