The signs of improvement can be fleeting for the 2014 Texas Rangers.
If you blink, you might miss them.
For right-hander Nick Martinez, it had been more than two months since he’s had tangible proof that he’s starting to get comfortable on major league mounds.
Sure, he’s thrown well at times this summer, including quality starts in two mid-June Rangers’ losses, but the 24-year old rookie had been looking for his second-career win since May 24.
It finally came on Sunday at Minute Maid Park as 19,239 watched the Rangers snap a seven-game losing streak to the Houston Astros with a 6-2 win.
Martinez (2-8) has pitched better, going only five innings, but his ability to clamp down early gave his offense a chance after he spotted Houston (49-69) an early 2-0 lead. A lead-off walk in the first led to the Astros’ first run, but he limited the damage.
Martinez was in a bind again in the second, but a perfect relay throw home from shortstop Elvis Andrus to Robinson Chirinos nailed Matt Dominguez trying to score on Marwin Gonzalez’s double to left to end the inning.
In the third, he hit Jose Altuve, who then stole second and scored on Jason Castro’s single to make it 2-0. In the fifth, he had runners on second and third with one out after a walk and a double, but Martinez struck out the heart of the Astros’ lineup — Chris Carter and Jason Castro.
“I had to battle out there today,” said Martinez, who had a career-high six strikeouts and threw 102 pitches before the bullpen took over in the sixth. “I was falling behind hitters and not getting any quick outs. Definitely relieved. It’s nice to get that win.”
His vigilance was rewarded when the Rangers tied it with two runs in the fourth. Andrus led off with a single and moved to third on a two-base wild pitch and scored on Alex Rios’ double to left-center field.
Later, Rios just beat the tag at home on Adam Rosales’ RBI single through the left side. Rios left the game after aggravating his already injured right ankle. He said he’ll be available to play Monday in the opener against Tampa Bay at Globe Life Park.
In the bottom of the fourth, Martinez responded with his only perfect inning of the game.
“That’s what you want all the time,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “When you score runs, you want to put a zero up the next inning.”
Texas’ offense added two more in the fifth as Chirinos led off with a double to right-center and Daniel Robertson followed with a single to right. Robertson later scored on Andrus’ sacrifice fly to give the Rangers (46-71) a 4-2 lead.
Solo homers to start the sixth and and seventh innings from Adrian Beltre and Shin-Soo Choo increased the lead to 6-2.
“When we tied the game it was very important to have a shutdown inning and get [the offense] back in and continue that hot streak,” Martinez said. “It’s been a problem lately trying to finish innings, so I made a point to focus a little bit more, maybe bear down a little bit to try to finish strong.”
Astros starter Dallas Keuchel (10-8) was charged with five runs in six innings.
“You need to get guys on base to get something going and you start chipping away,” Rosales said. “Get his pitch count up and make him make mistakes, make him come to you.”
Roman Mendez, Shawn Tolleson and Neftali Feliz combined for four scoreless innings of relief. Tolleson was especially effective, retiring all six batters he faced in the seventh and eighth innings.
“I was hoping to get two [innings] out of Mendez, but it just didn’t work out,” said Washington, after Mendez’s 24-pitch sixth inning. “But I got two out of Tolleson.”
More important, he saw signs of growth from Martinez.
“He was able to pitch around some traffic,” Washington said. “The first three innings he worked pretty hard. That is an advancement right there. He made pitches when he had to, especially in that fifth inning. It’s a step in the right direction.”