The loss of Nelson Cruz is going to bite the Texas Rangers’ offense at some point over the next few months, but nothing much has changed for the five pitchers in the starting rotation.
After all, runs have been hard to come by much of the season.
Their task is to give their team a chance, something they have done as well as any team’s rotation of late, and something Martin Perez did Monday night for a second consecutive start.
Good stuff from Perez has been the norm for him this season, save for two rough starts last month, and the young left-hander continues to solidify his spot every fifth day.
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Perez allowed two runs in 6 2/3 innings, and Elvis Andrus had a two-run triple on a scary play in a three-run fifth inning as the Rangers beat the Los Angels Angels 5-2 to open a three-game series.
“He just looks like a pitcher, a left-handed pitcher,” manager Ron Washington said. “He’s been under more control, he hasn’t been letting the game get too quick on him, and he’s been executing his pitches.”
Adrian Beltre homered and Jurickson Profar had an RBI single in a two-run sixth as the Rangers moved within two games of first-place Oakland in the American League West and took a half-game lead over Cleveland for the second wild-card entry into the playoffs.
But the Rangers had to endure some tense moments in the seventh and eighth innings before closing out their seventh win in the past eight games and their first win without Cruz, who was suspended 50 games Monday afternoon for taking performance-enhancing drugs.
“All of the sudden we’re not going to stop putting runs on the board,” Washington said. “We’re going to play the game that we always play, maybe with a little less power because Cruz isn’t in there, but we’ve got guys that are capable of getting runs across the plate.”
The Angels scored a run in the first against Perez, who should have worked a scoreless inning after a one-out single by Mike Trout. But with two outs, Mark Trumbo lofted a towering fly ball into the right-field corner, where Cruz-replacement David Murphy misjudged it and saw it fall for an RBI double.
Jerome Williams carried the 1-0 lead into the fifth and was on the verge of escaping the inning after the Rangers loaded the bases with one out. Williams struck out Leonys Martin but uncorked a wild pitch on the next pitch to allow Murphy to score the tying run.
Andrus followed with a pop-up that chased second baseman Howie Kendrick into shallow right field. He gloved the ball, but right fielder Collin Cowgill slid into him and the ball came free as Kendrick hit the ground.
Andrus went to third as both runners scored, and Kendrick left the game with a hyperextended left knee.
“It was one of those plays where he and the outfielder are going for the ball,” Washington said. “The outfielder is trying to get out of the way, and he just clipped him. It was just one of those things. I hope Howie is fine. He’s a quality ballplayer.”
Beltre started the sixth with his 24th homer of the season, and Profar knocked in Murphy four batters later.
Perez allowed only one hit from the second to the fifth inning. Chris Iannetta singled to start the fifth, but Perez ended the inning with a strikeout of Trout.
Perez (4-3) finally ran into trouble in the seventh, which started with a double by Erick Aybar followed by a walk to Chris Nelson. Chris Iannetta struck out, but Perez walked J.B. Shuck to load the bases.
Jason Frasor entered to get Cowgill on a fielder’s choice that pushed home Aybar, then walked Trout to fill the bases for Kole Calhoun. The pinch-hitter smacked a line drive to right, but Murphy grabbed it easily to end the threat.
“I didn’t care who they brought up,” Washington said. “I wasn’t going to let Trout swing the bat.”
A Beltre error to start the eighth and another shaky play Murphy with two outs put Neal Cotts in a bind in the eighth. He then walked Iannetta before Shuck sent a fly ball to right field that Murphy caught at the wall.
“The second one was just embarrassing,” Murphy said of his adventures in his first game of the season in right field.
Joe Nathan, though, took care of the Angels with an easy ninth inning to save Perez’s second victory in as many starts against the Angels.Perez said he feels like he is holding onto the rotation spot he filled after returning to the big leagues June 22.
“I’m going step by step,” he said. “I just have to continue to be consistent. If you’re consistent, you’re throwing better and you have to trust what you have.
“I feel for Nelson because he’s my friend. But I think I just have to do my job. Every guy in here can hit.”
Runs, after all, have been tough to come by much of this season. Perez, and the rest of the rotation, don’t have to change a thing with Cruz gone.