The latest Texas Rangers pitcher to take on a more prominent bullpen role, aided by both injuries and performance, is Shawn Tolleson.
The right-hander worked a quick and clean eighth inning Friday and was the winning pitcher as the Rangers scored once in the ninth to beat Felix Hernandez and Seattle 1-0.
Tolleson could pitch anywhere from the sixth to the eighth depending on how deep into the game the starting pitchers go and on how rested fellow righty Jason Frasor is.
One spot that hasn’t changed this season is closer, and Joakim Soria has been as close to a sure thing as any other closer in the American League.
No one should be surprised, manager Ron Washington said. Washington isn’t, and neither is Soria in his first full season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2012.
“First off, I thank God for giving me another chance to come back,” Soria said. “I’ve been working really hard. It’s not a surprise.”
Soria earned his 14th save in 15 tries Friday when he carved up the top of the Mariners’ order. His ERA sits at 1.88. His opponents’ batting average is .149. His average against right-handed hitters is a major league-leading .081 (3 for 37) for pitchers who have logged at least 30 at-bats against righties.
Those are numbers worthy of an All-Star appearance, but the 14 saves were tied for fifth entering Saturday. A lack of chances, brought on by the Rangers’ struggles the past month, could cost him in the player balloting.
Soria, a two-time All-Star with Kansas City, isn’t even thinking about the Midsummer Classic.
“It’s something that I don’t put much thought into,” he said. “It’s fun, but you can’t control it. If it happens, it happens.”
Nick Martinez is successful when he is attacking hitters with his fastball. That’s what he was doing in his first nine appearances, including four starts, en route to posting a 2.75 ERA through May.
But the rookie has allowed at least four earned runs in three straight starts. His last outing Monday was his the worst of his young career, as he allowed eight runs in two innings against Cleveland, falling behind hitters while nibbling with his fastball.
The game plan for Sunday, when he opposes Hisashi Iwakuma in the series finale at Safeco Field, is to go with what got him to the majors.
“I’ve got to attack hitters like I did at the beginning of the season,” Martinez said. “Fastball command down. The past few starts, I’ve starting nibbling and trying to be too fine with the fastball. I’ve been nibbling early then I get behind, and now I’ve got to throw a fastball that they’re expecting.”
Martinez (1-3) has never faced the Mariners, and that could work to his advantage. He also has been a better pitcher on the road with a 3.49 ERA that is more than two runs better than his ERA at Globe Life Park.
Right-handers Nick Green and Erik Swanson, the Rangers’ seventh- and eighth-round picks in the First-Year Player Draft earlier this month, have signed their first pro contracts, leaving only one of the Rangers’ top 10 picks unsigned.
The one is fifth-rounder Wes Benjamin, a left-hander from Kansas who underwent Tommy John surgery in April. He has agreed to sign but has yet to take a physical, which will include a comprehensive look at the elbow to make sure the surgery was done properly and that Benjamin has been following his rehab program.
The Rangers now have 21 of their 40 draftees under contract.