A.J. Pierzynski has been around long enough to know big-league debuts tend to go one of two ways: really well or really poorly.
And that’s why Pierzynski left Rangers Ballpark feeling good. He went 0 for 4 at the plate but played a significant role in making sure rookie right-hander Nick Tepesch shined in his first major-league start.
Pierzynski helped Tepesch work out of early jams and into the eighth inning of his impressive debut in the Rangers’ 6-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night.
“As a catcher, it’s the one position where you can have a bad night offensively but get the guy through the game the way we did and have him pitch well and get his first big-league win — makes you feel great,” Pierzynski said. “I couldn’t be any more proud of Nick. For him to go out and pitch the way he did — I’m really happy for him.”
Tepesch got into some early trouble but showed poise and patience as well as stuff good enough to get hitters out at the highest level.
After a perfect first inning, including a strikeout of Matt Joyce, Tepesch ran into trouble in the second. He issued consecutive two-out walks to load the bases but got out of it by striking out Kelly Johnson. At that point, though, he had thrown more balls (22) than strikes (21).
“I wasn’t worrying about limiting my pitch count,” Tepesch said. “I was just trying to make too good of pitches instead of just making quality pitches.”
Tepesch did that as the game wore on, although the Rays scored a run off him in the third. Desmond Jennings led off with a double to center, moved to third on a groundout by Joyce and scored on a groundout by Ben Zobrist.
The Rangers’ offense gave Tepesch a lead to work with after that, though. Lance Berkman flared a two-out, two-run single into shallow right-center field that the Rays’ didn’t field cleanly, allowing Leonys Martin to score from third and bringing Ian Kinsler around from first.
Tepesch didn’t let the lead slip away.
He had an eight-pitch fourth inning, inducing an inning-ending, double-play grounder by Yunel Escobar. That was the start of him retiring 12 consecutive batters until giving up an infield single and double with one out in the eighth.
By then, though, the Rangers had extended their lead to 6-1 with two runs in the fifth and two more in the seventh.
Tepesch exited the game after those two hits, and the crowd gave him a standing ovation. Reliever Robbie Ross worked out of the eighth-inning jam, and Jason Frasor pitched the ninth as Tepesch earned his first major league victory.
After the game, Tepesch also received the customary pie in the face during his TV interview and a beer shower in the clubhouse.
“It means a lot,” Tepesch said. “It’s what I’ve been working for since I’ve been playing this game.”
Tepesch had a relatively quick rise to the major leagues after the Rangers drafted him in the 14th round out of the University of Missouri in 2010. The 24-year-old spent the 2011 season at Class A Hickory and split last season between High A Myrtle Beach and Double A Frisco.
Tepesch made one start at Triple A Round Rock earlier this month before his contract was purchased on Tuesday afternoon. Hours later, he impressed everyone with his sinker and his demeanor. Only four balls reached the outfield — three hits and one fly ball out.
“Everything you’d like to see from a young guy,” Berkman said.
“Tremendous makeup, trusts his stuff, knows what he’s capable of doing,” manager Ron Washington said. “He never gets outside of himself. Those are the traits we saw in spring training.”