If there’s been a role to fill on the Texas Rangers pitching staff in 2014, Scott Baker has filled it at one time or another.
On Sunday at Globe Life Park, he was back in the spot where he has spent most of his nine-year major league career, as a starter. And as he has done in a variety of roles this year for the Rangers, Baker did his job.
The 32-year-old right-hander held the Kansas City Royals to five hits in five innings, and Texas took the finale of a three-game set 3-1.
The Rangers (50-79) begin a 10-day, 10-game road trip in Seattle at 9:10 p.m. Monday.
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Baker (2-3) earned his first win as a starter since July 23, 2011, when he was with the Twins. Royals lefty Jason Vargas (10-6) took the loss after allowing single runs in the first three innings.
Daniel Robertson doubled to lead off the first and scored on Adrian Beltre’s double.
In the second, Leonys Martin singled and moved to second on a throwing error. He then scored on Adam Rosales’ first of two doubles to left.
Alex Rios started the third with a double and scored after singles from J.P. Arencibia and Robinson Chirinos.
Meanwhile, Baker made only one mistake, a leadoff homer to Billy Butler in the fourth before retiring six of the last seven batters he faced. Baker hadn’t pitched in 11 days.
The last time he was on the mound, he earned his first win for the Rangers in a 14-inning victory over Tampa Bay on Aug. 12. Before that win, Texas was 0-20 in games he had appeared.
“I’m trying to do the same thing, whether I’m a starter or a reliever, it’s a matter of executing pitches,” said Baker, who grew up in Shreveport and attended Oklahoma State.
“For me, it’s never been an issue having that many days off from pitching and throwing the ball over [the plate]. I’ve always been able to do that. It’s a matter of making good two-strike pitches.”
Baker was able to hand the game over to a rested bullpen, which included two perfect innings from Shawn Tolleson, a perfect eighth from Neal Cotts and a sixth save for Neftali Feliz.
“I’d have to say he went beyond the call of duty,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said of Baker. “He actually said he had more in him, but he gave us what we needed and Tolleson was huge.”
Washington said Baker is a candidate to pitch Friday at Houston, a spot left vacant by the injured Yu Darvish. Baker threw 71 pitches, the most he’d thrown since his last start July 13. But he felt fine after five innings, he said, despite the 95-degree temperature at first pitch.
“I take a lot of pride in the conditioning aspect of this craft,” said Baker, who walked one, struck out one and worked efficiently. “It’s tough not having thrown that many pitches in a long time.
“As hot as it was out there ... it doesn’t necessarily matter how many pitches you throw, but how long you’re out there and how many times you have to warm up.”
Chirinos said Baker attacked the strike zone and had great command of his slider, fastball and changeup.
“He was getting ahead of people,” Chirinos said. “Both sides with strikes on the corners, and he was consistent.”
For all the roles Baker has played with the Rangers, which includes appearances in innings one through nine, plus two extra-inning stints, it’s his demeanor and experience as a clubhouse role model that impresses Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux.
“Scott Baker is a pro,” Maddux said. “He’s pitched in some roles that weren’t very sexy, but he’s never complained.
“He always takes the ball, always wants the ball. He leads by example, he’s a great influence on everybody and he’s the kind of role model you really need in the clubhouse.”