ARLINGTON -- No official word has been offered as to why Ryan Dempster needed to step away from the Texas Rangers over the weekend, but whatever caused his hiatus clearly wasn't a distraction Monday night.
Nor has he been distracted since he was acquired by the Rangers at the July 31 trade deadline. He just hasn't executed as well as he did against Baltimore.
The right-hander delivered his finest outing since arriving from Chicago, allowing four hits and a first-inning run as the Rangers opened a 10-game homestand with a 5-1 victory.
David Murphy opened the Rangers' scoring with a looping single in the fourth and capped their night at the plate with a ground RBI single in the eighth.
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Murphy, though, has been hot. Dempster hadn't fared so well, and his unexplained weekend absence added some intrigue to his fourth start with Texas.
But the reason behind his strong performance was simple.
"I think your objective is always the same, and that's to execute pitches," Dempster said. "But anytime you're ahead in the games and have a little bit of a cushion, when you get ahead in counts, you feel like you can challenge them."
Baltimore was fortunate to score at all. But Nate McLouth collected a two-out double in the first inning on a ball that right fielder Nelson Cruz misjudged, and Adam Jones plated McLouth with a single that popped out of Mitch Moreland's glove as he jumped to snare the soft liner.
Dempster, though, allowed only two more hits as the Rangers' offense found its footing against Miguel Gonzalez.
"I was able to settle down after the first inning and execute pitches and make pitches," Dempster said. "Ultimately, it came down to making better pitches, and I was able to get results."
The Rangers gathered four singles, a walk and a sacrifice fly in a three-run fourth to take their first lead at 3-1, and Cruz doubled home Josh Hamilton an inning later.
On a night when the Rangers didn't have the long ball, they had execution.
"Murph got us the first one, and from that point on things seemed to fall in our favor," manager Ron Washington said. "Everything the game asked from us, we executed."
All nine Rangers had a hit, and Murphy was the only player with two. His average sits at .309, which would rank eighth in the American League if he had enough at-bats to qualify. He should soon reach the minimum mark of 3.1 plate appearances per scheduled game.
He said his first hit was "lucky."
"It wasn't the best pitch to swing at, but some nights things go well," he said. "We hit some balls right at guys, so it was good to get a break."
Dempster (2-1) was at his best after allowing a one-out single to Nick Markakis in the fifth. He retired the final 11 batters he faced, and finished with six strikeouts.
The key was commanding his pitches, something that had escaped him in starts against Anaheim and New York that helped push his ERA to 8.31 in three starts for the Rangers. He hopes his form Monday will carry over the rest of the year.
"That's what he's capable of doing," Washington said. "He's not an overpowering guy. He has to execute his pitches, and tonight he executed. As long as he does that, he'll be fine."
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760