Concerns about the No. 5 spot in the Texas Rangers’ rotation heading down the stretch are completely valid based on how the starting pitchers who filled that spot fared late last season.
The numbers — 10 starts, 10 straight losses — could have cost the Rangers a third straight American League West title, though general manager Jon Daniels recently called that an excuse for the Rangers’ September fade.
But when the final margin behind the Oakland A’s was one game, one win would have meant a different outcome.
And when Matt Harrison and Colby Lewis were ruled out for the rest of this season and Alexi Ogando hit the disabled list for a third time and a pitcher from Houston’s Triple A team was called upon, uncertainty again clouded the fifth spot.
Travis Blackley hasn’t exactly been Sandy Koufax through his two starts, but the left-hander hasn’t been the 2012 versions of Scott Feldman, Martin Perez and Roy Oswalt, either.
Blackley allowed three runs in six innings Monday night, and A.J. Pierzynski hit a critical three-run homer in the seventh inning as the Rangers opened a three-game series at Safeco Field with an 8-3 victory over the Seattle Mariners.
The Rangers have won both of Blackley’s starts, and his first win with the Rangers helped his new team maintain its 2 ½-game lead over Oakland in the AL West.
“We did have issues last year there, and hopefully we don’t have that issue as we move forward with the season,” manager Ron Washington said. “He did a great job in his last two outings, and we’ll see how it continues.”
Blackley will make another start Sunday against Minnesota, Washington said, after getting through six innings on only 71 pitches. He changed speeds effectively, using his changeup and adding a curveball back to his arsenal.
He allowed five hits, including a home run to the Rangers’ newest nemesis, Kyle Seager. But he also walked just one batter and worked at a quicker pace than he did in his Rangers debut Aug. 20 against Houston.
“This is a good opportunity,” said Blackley, who was acquired from the Astros on Aug. 14. “It’s a blessing in disguise. I get a chance to come here looking for October. I’m just trying to run with it.”
Mitch Moreland added a home run in the eighth as the Rangers snapped a two-game losing streak. They scored six times with two outs, half of them coming on Pierzynski’s 15th homer of the season.
The blast came on the first pitch from Joe Saunders following an intentional walk to Adrian Beltre, and Pierzynski knows that he has to do damage as teams warm to the idea of making someone other than Beltre beat them.
“I’d do the same thing if I was Eric Wedge,” Pierzynski said of the Mariners’ manager. “The way [Adrian] is swinging the bat and has been going for two months now, it makes all the sense in the world.
“Every team is going to do it. Hopefully I can get some hits and get them to slow down so Adrian can keep getting opportunities.”
Beltre was also walked intentionally in the first inning, and he ended up scoring on a two-out, two-run single by Alex Rios.
Seattle tied the game in the third on bases-loaded single by Brad Miller, but Blackley cooled the Mariners’ rally by getting Franklin Gutierrez to bounce into an inning-ending double play.
Rios started the fourth with a double after a diving Gutierrez couldn’t handle the shallow fly ball. Rios went to third as Moreland flied out, and scored as second baseman Nick Franklin bobbled a tailor-made double-play grounder and gave Jurickson Profar just enough time to beat out the back end of the double play.
After Craig Gentry walked, Elvis Andrus singled home Profar for a 4-2 lead. Andrus had hits in his first three at-bats on his 25th birthday.
Seager brought the Mariners within a run in the bottom half with a solo homer, his fifth this year against the Rangers.
But the Rangers widened the gap in the seventh, a rally that started after Gentry and Andrus were easy outs against Saunders. But Ian Kinsler doubled, and Beltre was walked with first base open.
Pierzynski, who had soft groundouts in his first three at-bats, made Seattle pay.
“The way Beltre is swinging the bat, we’ll see a lot of that,” Washington said. “That’s nothing new with A.J. Tonight he rose to the occasion.”
So did Blackley from the fifth spot in the rotation.