The Texas Rangers’ resurgent offense the past two nights against the Astros has been an eye-opener, for sure.
The offense, however, was supposed to be decent coming out of spring training, especially with sluggers such as Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo and Mitch Moreland healthy again.
More impressive than the recent offensive production has been the steadiness of the Texas rotation.
The Rangers have thrown a season-high six consecutive quality starts, including Colby Lewis’ eight-inning stint in an 11-3 win Wednesday night to finish a three-game sweep of the previously red-hot Houston Astros.
It’s the first sweep for the Rangers (11-16) since taking three from the Astros last September. Before this series, Texas hadn’t won consecutive games. Houston (18-10) entered the series with a 10-game win streak and atop the American League West.
“I just think this series kind of shows how when both of us, the pitching and the hitting come together this is the type of team we’re all about,” said Lewis, who improved to 2-2. “It’s fun to go out there and get that amount of run support and get out there and fill the strike zone and use their aggressiveness to get quick outs and go deep in the game.”
It’s the first time Rangers starters went at least seven innings in consecutive games this season. In the past 13 games (before Wednesday), the rotation had a 2.71 ERA over 76 1/3 innings. The starters’ combined ERA has dropped from 5.09 to a season-low 3.79, tied for fifth lowest in the AL.
Left-handers Ross Detwiler and Wandy Rodriguez, who started the first two games in Houston, have been two of the biggest reasons for the vast improvement.
Detwiler struggled in his first three starts before being pulled out of the rotation for a week of maintenance on his delivery with pitching coach Mike Maddux. In short: it worked. In his two starts since missing a start Detwiler has allowed just three runs in 12 1/3 innings, with 12 strikeouts and four walks. It’s quite a contrast from his first three starts, when he surrendered 15 earned runs in just 12 1/3 innings, with seven walks and five strikeouts.
“We work with everybody the same way,” Maddux said. “Sometimes a guy, based on the ebb and flow, is a little bit more receptive. [Detwiler] was very receptive. It really opened up his mind and the results speak for themselves. We cleaned up his delivery. Has an easier time putting it where he wants. He has plenty of movement, plenty of action. Really focus on the changeup. He’s a fastball guy, but he’s got a good changeup, too, so let’s use it.”
Rodriguez, an 11-year veteran, has been a nifty acquisition for the Rangers. Signed at the end of spring training after he was released by the Braves following a solid spring, Rodriguez has pitched well in all three of his starts, including a superb outing against his former team in Houston on Tuesday night, when he retired the last 19 batters he faced. The Rangers overall have 13 quality starts, including Lewis’ outing Wednesday.
“Can’t say enough about the job Colby has done and really the starting pitchers over the last 14 games,” manager Jeff Banister said. “It’s just a testament to what they believe in and how they work.”
While Lewis was dealing, the Rangers’ offense was exploding for 11 runs, a season high, and 13 hits, one shy of their season high. Carlos Peguero homered twice and Adrian Beltre was a homer shy of hitting for the cycle as the Rangers unloaded two four-run innings in the second and fifth. Every Texas starter hit safely but shortstop Elvis Andrus.
“They were very aggressive and he made quality pitches early, got them beating it in the ground, beating them with two strikes, got them chasing and popping up,” Maddux said of Rodriguez’s eight-inning start Tuesday. It could also go for Detwiler’s seven innings on Monday and Lewis on Wednesday.
Add Detwiler and Rodriguez to the surprising start by Nick Martinez (2-0), who starts the opener against the Rays in Tampa Bay at 6:10 p.m. Thursday, and you have a surprisingly steady rotation.
Considering the losses of ace Yu Darvish for the season and ace-in-waiting Derek Holland, who will be out until July with a right shoulder strain, the rotation has been remarkably reliable. Throw in the returns of lefties Martin Perez (early July) and Matt Harrison (in June) and the Rangers could suddenly have an embarrassment of riches.
“That starting core, they know who they are,” Banister said. “With the exception of Detwiler and Martinez, who are a little fresh in the process, the other three have been around. The contagiousness of what we see out on the mound. I believe they like to feed off each other.”
And that suddenly potent offense? It was only a matter of time, Banister said.
“This is a really good group of players. We’ve talked about it from Day One. It took them a little while to get some good things going,” he said. “This is a good group of hitters. I told you two weeks ago this group would look different and it does.”
Stefan Stevenson, 817-390-7760