No matter how quickly the right shoulder of Alexi Ogando heals, the fifth spot in the Texas Rangers’ rotation will remain an uncertainty the rest of the season.
Travis Blackley got the first crack Tuesday at replacing Ogando, who has hit the disabled list for a third time, and the left-hander kept the game close against his former team, the Houston Astros.
Being within striking distance is the primary task for any starter who pitches for a team that features Adrian Beltre in its lineup.
Beltre swatted a two-run, go-ahead homer in the sixth inning, and four relievers delivered five scoreless innings as the Rangers won 4-2 and beat the Astros for the seventh straight time.
The victory ensured that the Rangers would keep at least a half-game lead in the American League West and moved them to 20 games over .500 (73-53) for the first time this season. Only two other teams in club history (1999, 2012) have had a better record after 126 games.
Beltre, meanwhile, continues a torrid pace that included him being named the AL’s top player in July. At least one teammate believes that Beltre is deserving of a bigger honor.
“He’s having an MVP-caliber season,” second baseman Ian Kinsler said. “I don’t know what else to say. He’s one of the best players in the league for one of the best teams in the league, and he does it night in and night out.”
Beltre also doubled and scored the Rangers’ first run in the second inning to give him 17 straight games reaching base and hits in 17 of the past 21. The homer, his team-leading 10th go-ahead shot, left Beltre with multiple hits in 13 of the past 21 games.
He is batting .434 (33 for 76) the past 21 games and .383 since July 1 with 12 homers and 36 of his team-leading 78 RBIs.
“This is what I’m supposed to be doing, right?” said Beltre, whose .326 average is third in the league behind Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout. “I’ve been lucky lately. I’ve been finding some holes.”
Blackley didn’t pitch long enough to qualify for the win, which went to Neal Cotts (5-2), but he pitched well enough in his Rangers debut to be considered for the start when the No. 5 spot comes up again next week.
He threw 66 pitches, and the only damage against him was a two-run homer by Matt Dominguez in the second inning.
“I felt I could’ve kept going,” said Blackley, who made his first start of the season. “It was solid. I made the one bad pitch there to a dangerous guy and paid the price. I seemed to find my groove in the third and fourth, and I was pretty happy with it.”
Manager Ron Washington went to his best out of the bullpen with the Rangers trailing only 2-1 when Blackley exited.
Jason Frasor worked the next 1 2/3 innings, getting a boost when rookie Max Stassi wandered off second base after a wild throw and was tagged out by Kinsler, and Cotts got four more outs.
Tanner Scheppers pitched around a one-out hit in the eighth, and Joe Nathan struck out the side in the ninth for his 37th save.
“Getting four out of [Blackley] and the score was 2-1 made a significant difference,” Washington said. “It fell the way we wanted it to fall. If it was a bigger lead that they had, maybe it would have made a difference.”
Beltre made the difference against Jarred Cosart, the promising Astros rookie. Kinsler took a one-out walk in the sixth, and Cosart hung a breaking ball around Beltre’s shoulders.
It landed 368 feet later in the right-field seats.
“It was a good pitch to hit,” said Beltre, who is batting .373 with five homers, 13 RBIs and a .729 slugging percentage this year against Houston. “I was able to put a good swing on it. I hit it in the right spot.”
Beltre hasn’t done much lately that hasn’t been right. That left Kinsler campaigning for Beltre to be MVP.