Somewhat lost in the bellyaching over the Texas Rangers’ lack of offense is that a) it’s April, and b) the starting rotation continues to show signs of improvement.
Those trends continued Tuesday, when the prized slugging first baseman finally slugged in the 14th game of the season, and an injury fill-in pitched like he should never return to the bullpen.
Another fill-in hit like he should never go back to Triple A.
Prince Fielder launched his first homer of the season to start the second inning, and Robbie Ross allowed five hits in 7 2/3 scoreless inning as the Rangers pulled away from Seattle for a 5-0 victory.
While Fielder’s homer was the most celebrated blow of the night, Kevin Kouzmanoff was the offense’s hero. He followed Fielder’s blast to center with his first homer since 2011 and tacked on a two-run double in the eighth.
The offensively challenged Rangers, though, need to continue to receive quality pitching. Ross gave it to them en route to his first career victory as a starter.
“All the pitching is starting to come around,” manager Ron Washington said. “The bullpen has done a good job. The starting pitching has kept us in ballgames, and Robbie, tonight, he was able to do what he wanted to do with the baseball.
“When you’ve got good stuff and you throw strikes, they really don’t do much with it.”
The shutout was the Rangers’ fourth of the season, the most in the majors, and the third in five games on this 10-game homestand. The rotation has posted a 2.11 ERA in the past nine games, and the starters’ ERA this season is a tidy 3.43.
Ross didn’t allow an earned run for the second straight start, and he scattered five singles and two hit batsmen. He needed only 90 pitches to record 23 outs, a start after he walked six and needed 98 pitches to get through 5 1/3 innings at Boston.
The left-hander was the same aggressive pitcher as he was in his first two starts this season, Washington said, but he had better command of the strike zone and had great movement on his fastball.
He worked quickly, too, and kept the Rangers’ infielders engaged. The Mariners grounded into 16 outs against Ross and made outs on two infield popups.
After Robinson Cano reached second with two outs in the first inning, the Mariners didn’t get another runner into scoring position until Corey Hart singled off Alexi Ogando as the first batter after Ross was removed.
“I went out there and tried to attack them,” Ross said. “Sometimes it’s hard not going out there and being a little fine here and there. Tonight I was just like, ‘You know what? We’ve got guys behind us who are great athletes and can make plays for me.’ Just going out there and battling.”
Ross also made a 2-0 second-inning lead stand after Fielder and Kouzmanoff started the inning with back-to-back homers.
For Fielder, his first homer since being traded to the Rangers ended a 13-game streak without going deep. Fielder said he wasn’t sure what kind of pitch he hit from former Rangers first-round pick Blake Beavan, but Washington said that Fielder has been seeing more pitches to learn how pitchers are attacking him.
“Earlier, I think he was just up there swinging,” Washington said. “Lately, he’s been trying to slow things down. Tonight he got one, and he didn’t miss it.”
Kouzmanoff, who has replaced the injured Adrian Beltre at third base after being called up from Round Rock last week, put the game out of reach with a two-out two-run double in the eighth. He scored on a single by Mitch Moreland for the game’s final tally.
Kouzmanoff bumped his average to .450 (9 for 20) since returning to the majors and has reached in all six of his games. The 405-homer to left field was his first circuit clout since a two-homer game Sept. 25, 2011.
“I’m just trying to get good pitches to hit and trying to hit them hard,” he said. “Unfortunately, Adrian is out. Those are big shoes to fill. I’m just out there trying to do the best I can.”
The Rangers will take whatever they can get. Ross gave them plenty against Seattle.