Ron Washington is darned if he does/darned if he doesn’t when it comes to Yu Darvish, and so, likely, is Jurickson Profar when it comes time for Ian Kinsler to come off the disabled list.
But the star right-hander continued to impress Sunday afternoon amid pitch-count questions, and the prized prospect delivered the biggest hit in the Texas Rangers’ 3-1 victory, knowing full well that his days in the big leagues could be numbered.
Darvish pitched seven scoreless innings but threw only 99 pitches after feeling fatigued, and Profar’s solo homer with two outs and two strikes in the eighth inning did in the Kansas City Royals.
David Murphy drove in a second run in the eighth inning and Joe Nathan worked a perfect ninth, but they were afterthoughts in the postgame news conference with Washington.
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First up was why he had the audacity to remove Darvish, who has thrown as many as 130 pitches this season.
“Do you call that pretty early?” Washington said. “After the sixth he said he was starting to get a little gassed. He went into the seventh, and after the seventh we asked him and he said he was a little gassed. We weren’t going to send him back out there when he was feeling fatigued.”
Neal Cotts, though, promptly surrendered the Rangers’ 1-0 lead only three batters into the eighth, and Tanner Scheppers benefited from a runner caught stealing to get out of the inning in a tied game.
J.C. Gutierrez entered for the Royals and made quick work of pinch hitters A.J. Pierzynski and Leonys Martin. He threw two strikes to Profar, who took a ball and fouled off another pitch before lofting a towering fly ball into the right-field seats for a 2-1 lead.
“The worst you can do is make an out. Why feel pressure?” said Profar, who could be headed to Triple A when Kinsler is ready. “You just look for a pitch to make contact. I was just trying to get on base and do the best I could to get on base. He left a pitch up, and I hit it good.”
Elvis Andrus followed with a single, stole second and went to third on a throwing error. Murphy then laced a single to center to hand Nathan a two-run cushion.
The closer got some help on the game-ending call at first base, a play made more difficult by tightness in his left buttocks. But everything checked out after the game, and he will be ready to go Tuesday when the Rangers open a three-game series at Boston.
Scheppers got the win, improving to 4-0, but Darvish was the Rangers’ pitching star. He allowed only three hits and two walks while striking out six. He also made sure to set the record straight on the level of wear and tear he felt during his 12th start of the season.
“First of all, I never told them that I was gassed,” Darvish said. “What I told them was that after the seventh inning, I was a little bit fatigued. I told them I could still pitch, but I also told them you might be better off with Scheppers.”
It wasn’t an easy day for Darvish, who encountered trouble twice, once by his own doing, but wiggled loose each time.
The Royals started the second with a walk to Billy Butler and singles by Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain to load the bases. But the slow-footed Butler was thrown out at home by Craig Gentry after attempting to score on a Jeff Francoeur flyout, and Chris Getz flied out to center two batters later.
“If it weren’t for that play I think I would’ve struggled a lot more,” Darvish said. “But I knew after that play, I was able to regroup myself, and as long as I stayed tough and patient, I’d get through those innings.”
Butler walked again to start the fourth, and Moustakas was hit on the foot before Darvish got Cain on strikes, Francoeur on a flyout and George Kottaras on another strikeout.
Ervin Santana was just as good in his sixth attempt for his 100th career victory. The Rangers’ lone run against him came in the first and was unearned as shortstop Alcides Escobar threw wildly to first base on a grounder by leadoff man Andrus.
Andrus took third on a flyout by Murphy and scampered home on a weak grounder by Lance Berkman between the mound and the third-base line.
Santana held the Rangers without a hit until Nelson Cruz singled with one out in the fourth and allowed only two other singles in seven innings.
But the Royals lost for the 10th time in their past 12 games, and the Rangers finished a rain-shortened homestand with a 3-1 record. It rates as a nice rebound after losing a 13-inning game May 27 at Seattle and dropping a doubleheader May 28 at Arizona.
“Through it all we stayed focused,” Washington said. “We went out there and tried to do the best we could. Maybe we didn’t play our best baseball, but we played good baseball and it worked for us.”