Whatever your biggest complaint about the Texas Rangers has been in 2014, everyone must agree that the starting rotation needs to do a better job in the second half.
Manager Ron Washington has spent a good deal of time in the past month, including before the second-half opener against the Blue Jays on Friday at Rogers Centre, extolling the need for his starters to go deeper.
It’s necessary, Washington said, not only to keep his offense in games but also to give an overworked bullpen a chance to catch up and be effective again.
Yu Darvish did just that on Friday, and the Rangers’ offense responded in kind as Texas (39-57) snapped an eight-game losing streak with a 5-1 win against the Blue Jays in front of an announced crowd of 38,012.
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Darvish has been sharper, but when he needed his stuff to be nasty on Friday night, it was as nasty as it’s been all season.
And for much of the night he was forced to step up and shut down potential Toronto rallies. He did it in four of his six full innings when the Blue Jays had a runner at second base.
Darvish (9-5) closed the first six innings with strikeouts and tied a season high with 12 strikeouts. He allowed five hits, including an infield single to second and a bloop single to center, and walked three.
“It started on the mound,” Washington said. “Yu was able to pitch around some traffic he had on the bases and make some pitches in some key situations and shut the inning down. He kept us in the ballgame until we could get something going.”
The Rangers’ offense also showed some fight. Adrian Beltre’s solo homer to start the fifth gave Texas a 1-0 lead against knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. Later in the fifth, Rougned Odor’s triple to the gap in right center scored J.P. Arencibia to make it 2-0.
Arencibia, who started his career with the Blue Jays and played four seasons in Toronto, returned to the Rangers’ lineup after a two-month stint in the minors. He was booed along with former Blue Jay Alex Rios each time he came to the plate.
He answered the fans and confirmed the hopes of the Rangers with a three-run homer to left that gave Texas a 5-0 lead in the seventh. Dickey, who faced the minimum through four innings, allowed five runs on six hits in seven innings.
“It’s nice to come back and be able to help the team win,” said Arencibia, who started at first base. “I just want to help the team win. So since we won, [the homer is] a good one.”
Colby Rasmus’ solo homer to right against Darvish in the bottom of the seventh preceded a walk by Josh Thole and a double from Munenori Kawasaki, which led to Neal Cotts replacing Darvish with runners on second and third and two outs.
Cotts forced a flyout to end the inning and struck out the side in the eighth. Joakim Soria closed the ninth and added two more strikeouts to give Texas 17 as a team, one shy of tying the team record for a nine-inning game, set in 1989.
It was Darvish’s 12th quality start and first since June 28.
“I was able to throw a lot of breaking balls because I really had command of that pitch and able to get outs with that pitch and had a good rhythm,” Darvish said. “I had difficulty locating my fastball today. Hopefully we can show some new baseball the second half of the season.”
Odor was 3 for 4 with a single, double and triple. Catcher Geovany Soto returned to the lineup for the first time in 2014 and went 0 for 4.
Washington, who told the team during a pregame meeting that he wanted it to focus on defense and “take responsibility for what happens between the lines,” hopes a return to basics will help in the second half.
“These are the types of things you talk to kids about,” Washington said before the game. “You don’t think you’ll be talking about that type of stuff at the big-league level, but that’s where we are. When everybody is healthy and we have a full roster to deal with, we’re going to win.”