Every start is a learning experience for Nick Tepesch, and he learned another valuable lesson Friday against the Blue Jays.
“You can’t hit the nine-hole hitter with a curveball,” Tepesch said. “You can’t do that. Stuff like that sets the tone.”
In a wrong way.
A good start unraveled for Tepesch quickly after he hit the Jays’ nine-hole batter to start the sixth inning. Toronto scored four runs that inning and went on to a 6-1 victory over Texas in a crisp, 2-hour, 8-minute game.
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The Rangers remain in an offensive funk and have lost seven of their last 11. They fell to second place in the American League West standings for the first time since April 20. The A’s hold a half-game lead after defeating the White Sox on Friday.
It got off to a promising start for Tepesch and the Rangers. He retired the first nine batters before giving up a leadoff homer to Melky Cabrera in the fourth inning that tied the game at 1-1.
Tepesch then worked a perfect fifth before running into the troubling sixth. He yanked an 0-1 curveball inside that hit the Jays’ No. 9 batter, Munenori Kawasaki.
Cabrera followed with a single to right on the first pitch he saw, Jose Bautista drew a four-pitch walk to load the bases, and Edwin Encarnacion delivered a blow with a two-run double to left-center field on a sinker that was down and away.
Adam Lind and J.P. Arencibia brought in two more runs for a 5-1 lead on sacrifice flies that were also hit on the first pitch of those at-bats.
“They just came out ambushing the first pitch,” said Tepesch, who threw only 11 pitches in the four-run sixth.
“They did a great job of situational hitting, what do you do?” catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. “It just happened so fast. He threw great except for a five-pitch span there.”
Asked what Tepesch could take away from his outing, Pierzynski said: “If he pitches like he did tonight, he’s going to win a lot of games.”
Tepesch gave up another run on an RBI single by Cabrera in the seventh.
It was the deepest Tepesch has pitched since his big-league debut on April 9, but the six earned runs were the most he’s allowed. In fact, Tepesch allowed six runs total in his four April starts.
It’s part of the growing process for a young pitcher. Outside of letting the leadoff batter reach, Tepesch also knows he has to improve on how he handles batters the second and third time through the lineup.
He has held batters to a .146 average the first time through the lineup, but that rises to .232 the second time through and .366 the third time.
“He’s a young kid and he’ll learn,” manager Ron Washington said. “He’s got the stuff to do it.”
Even if Tepesch had not struggled in the sixth, there were no guarantees of a Rangers victory. The offense scored only one run on an RBI single by Adrian Beltre in the first inning.
They didn’t give themselves many more opportunities, producing only four hits against five pitchers. Toronto reliever-turned-starter Esmil Rogers allowed one run on three hits over four innings, and then four relievers combined for five scoreless innings.
“It looked like a spring training game, seeing five pitchers,” said shortstop Elvis Andrus, who went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts. “It’s always hard to get a feeling and get comfortable when you haven’t faced a guy, but you’ve got to keep battling through it.”
The Rangers struck out 13 times and are batting .213 over their last six games. They had the leadoff man reach in the fourth and seventh innings, but those threats fizzled quickly.
“Right now, we’re in a little rut where we’re not putting runs on the board, but we will,” Washington said. “We’ll get back going offensively.”