Expecting to be in a tight race for the division title the rest of the season, manager Ron Washington and the Texas Rangers wanted to get a long look at LA Angels starter Garrett Richards.
The rookie lasted all of 19 pitches before suffering a strained abductor muscle in his right leg, forcing the Angels to go through four relievers in the first game of a key series.
They couldn’t keep up with a well-rounded Rangers offense, which got four hits from Ian Kinsler and back-to-back homers from Nelson Cruz and Mike Napoli in a six-run fifth as the Rangers scored an 8-4 victory Monday night to open the four-game set.
Washington wasn’t ready to consider the impact the injury could have over the next three nights. With Jered Weaver and Ervin Santana pitching the final two games, the Angels’ bullpen woes could be a factor for only tonight.
But the Rangers pushed their lead in the American League West to five games, matching the largest advantage of the season, as Alexi Ogando pitched into the seventh inning to grab the all-important Game 1 win.
“But the thing in baseball is you can’t live off of what you just did,” Washington said. “I’m not thinking about the rest of the series. I’m only thinking about tomorrow. You can’t get ahead of yourself.”
That’s the approach the Rangers will take with Cruz, who left the game after batting in the seventh inning with tightness in his left quadriceps. He felt discomfort while wearing a sleeve over the muscle, which also came up tight late last month at Toronto.
But Cruz couldn’t pinpoint the tight area with the sleeve off, and the leg passed all the tests the training staff put it through. He could be in the lineup tonight against Tyler Chatwood.
“We were up by six runs, and I didn’t think the team needed me that much,” said Cruz, who asked to be taken out as a precaution.
The Rangers scored once against Richards before he exited with two outs in the first. Kinsler started the game with a double, went to third on an error by catcher Bobby Wilson and scored on a groundout by Elvis Andrus.
Richards retired Josh Hamilton and Michael Young, but was injured on his third pitch to Cruz. Bobby Cassevah entered and allowed only one run in 2 2/3 innings before giving way to Hisanori Takahashi, who was on the mound when the Rangers’ used both small ball and the long ball in the fifth.
Mitch Moreland started the rally with his 22nd hit in 93 at-bats against a left-handed pitcher. Kinsler followed with a single, and Moreland appeared to be an easy out at third after Takahashi fielded a sacrifice attempt by Andrus.
But Takahashi threw wildly, and Moreland scored as Kinsler and Andrus went to third and second. They would score as Young rifled a one-out single into left field.
That hit brought Rich Thompson in from the bullpen, and he surrendered homers to his first two batters. Cruz popped No. 26 down the left-field line, and Mike Napoli followed with a drive to straightaway center field against his old team.
“If you watch us on a consistent basis, whatever the game asks us to do — that’s the way Wash puts it — we can do it,” Kinsler said. “Offensively, we were able to have that big inning that we know we’re capable of having.”
The Angels, though, still had a little life left against Ogando (12-5). They countered the Rangers’ big fifth with one in the bottom half, and added two in the seventh on a pinch-hit homer by Russell Branyan.
Ogando was done after 6 1/3 mostly good innings, and Koji Uehara made sure the Angels didn’t get any closer. He got the final two outs of the seventh on five pitches and mowed the Angels down in the eighth.
Mark Lowe pitched around a bunt hit and a walk to start the ninth to finish off the Rangers’ seventh win in their past eight games.