Despite hiccups, pitching continues to carry Rangers

09/03/2013 10:55 PM

11/12/2014 3:03 PM

Yu Darvish didn’t do himself any favors Friday night, when six no-hit innings were forgotten in the matter of two swings by Chris Herrmann and Justin Morneau.

Not only did Darvish surrender a late lead, he did so for the second straight start and for the fourth time this season. There doesn’t seem to be any inning or any scenario in which it’s acceptable for the Texas Rangers’ No. 1 starter to allow a run.

“Earlier in the season people were talking about giving up runs early in the game, and now we’re talking about later in the game,” Darvish said. “I try to take the same approach, but there are certain things you can’t control.”

Derek Holland heard some harrumphs after five walks, two homers and four runs in only 42/3 innings Monday in the Rangers’ 4-2 loss to Oakland, a defeat that forged a tie atop the American League West.

He and Darvish are a combined 21-13 with a 2.91 ERA and each should surpass 200 innings. Harrumph, indeed.

But the complaints about the top of the rotation cements what those who have followed the Rangers this season know: This is a team no longer built on offense, and the rotation is going to dictate if the Rangers will play in October for a fourth straight season.

“We’ve taken another step with our pitching,” Holland said Tuesday, before the Rangers faced Oakland in a late game at O.co Coliseum.

“It’s been starting to get more and more known. Yes, the hitting is always going to be there. It’s a given. That’s what Texas has always been about. Now, we’re working on that part.”

The Rangers entered Tuesday having pitched 30 consecutive games without allowing more than five runs, the longest streak in the AL since the advent of the designated hitter. The 3.62 staff ERA was third-best in the league and the team’s lowest through 137 games since 1983.

The rotation has been set for the rest of the season, though it hasn’t been announced. The most likely scenario has Darvish starting the finale Sept. 29 if he’s needed to clinch the West or a wild-card spot. If he’s not needed, he would start the first playoff game.

Matt Garza, Holland and either Nick Tepesch or Travis Blackley will start this weekend in Anaheim following Thursday’s off day, and another off day Sept. 12 would allow the Rangers to adjust again.

Darvish is scheduled to start Wednesday in the series finale against the A’s, who have beaten him in four consecutive starts. Though it’s now September and the Rangers are in the thick of a postseason push, Darvish is treating his next start like any other.

“I’m so glad that we’re winning right now, but my job doesn’t change,” he said. “When I’m pitching I try to win and help my team and contribute as much as possible.”

At 12-7 with a 2.73 ERA and a baseball-best 236 strikeouts, Darvish has done his part in a season in which the Rangers were essentially without their past two Opening Day starters, Matt Harrison and Colby Lewis.

Holland had strung together 14 consecutive starts of at least six innings before falling four outs short Monday. Martin Perez, who started Tuesday is a candidate to be Rookie of the Year, and the Rangers have won six of the eight games Garza has started for them.

“When I came here, I looked at the pitching staff and knew these guys could pitch,” catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. “They went out and got Garza. They had Perez in the minor leagues. This team is really focused on pitching. I don’t know how a team could survive losing its last two Opening Day starters and still have the pitching staff we’ve put together.”

He’s right, and this season has provided the strongest evidence that the Rangers are no longer built on offense.

The offense-first label still persists in some baseball circles, even though the Rangers’ offensive numbers are a steep departure from past seasons.

But if the Rangers make the playoffs, either as division champs or as one of the two wild-card teams for a second straight year, their pitching will carry them there.

“We have a strong rotation,” Holland said of a unit that has a 3.97 ERA, sixth in the AL. “I don’t care what anybody says. I feel like we are up there with every other staff that’s out there.”

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