The offense-starved Texas Rangers have scored 23 runs in their past three games, an offensive bonanza relative to what they had done in April and at the start of May.
In a seven-game stretch that started April 27, the Rangers scored 20 times. Eight of those runs came in one game.
The starting pitching, though, has been a mainstay the past two weeks. Even with Nick Martinez coming apart suddenly Thursday, the Rangers’ rotation has posted a 2.70 ERA the past 15 games.
The bullpen, though, had been the missing pitching piece. There’s no need to revisit the meltdowns of April 19 and May 1, but the relievers knew they needed to be better.
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They were Thursday in a 5-4 victory that pushed the Rangers’ winning streak to four games. Four relievers combined to retire 13 of the final 14 Tampa Bay batters, and Neftali Feliz’s 1-2-3 ninth was his best inning of the season.
The bullpen isn’t in the clear yet, not until it shows it can stay consistent over an extended stretch, but its work at Tropicana Field and also Monday night at Houston make for a good start.
“Everybody had to try to be better,” Feliz said. “Everyone is like family in the bullpen. I tried to tell the young guys to keep working hard and that the season just started. We had a long season to go and we need to keep our head up and be ready every day.”
Alex Claudio earned his first career victory, a just reward after his promotion from Triple A Round Rock helped the bullpen snap back into place. He said he was ready in the fifth inning, when a cruising Martinez was suddenly hittable and out of sync.
Martinez entered the inning with 44 pitches and a 5-0 lead. He couldn’t finish the inning, throwing 36 pitches to get two outs and allowing three runs.
“It just got away from me,” said Martinez, who still has a 1.47 ERA after six starts. “I got away from the game plan, and my rhythm got off a little bit.”
Claudio was summoned with Rays at first and second and James Loney batting. Claudio won the lefty-on-lefty matchup with one pitch, and worked a perfect sixth inning that included two strikeouts.
Claudio (1-0) hadn’t pitched since Sunday, when he allowed a three-run homer to A’s catcher Stephen Vogt. It was his fifth appearance in the six games since coming up from Round Rock.
“I had a job to do,” he said. “I’m happy that all of the guys in the bullpen have been doing really well and helping to win games for us.”
But his heavy workload helped other Rangers relievers get caught up. The Rangers didn’t have a left-hander for much of April, forcing the best right-handers to work more than usual.
They have a lefty now, and Claudio has helped get everyone else straight again. A week’s worth of quality starts helped, too.
“That bullpen really toed the line for us and cleaned up a lot of innings for us,” manager Jeff Banister said. “Bringing Claudio in, a left-hander, has really given us an opportunity to … give that back end of the bullpen an opportunity to pitch when we want them to pitch.”
Keone Kela followed Claudio with an easy seventh, and Shawn Tolleson recovered from a leadoff homer by Kevin Kiermaier in the eighth before Feliz preserved what looked early on like it would be an easy win.
The Rangers scored four times with two outs in the second, a rally kept alive by Rougned Odor reaching on a wild pitch after he had struck out on a pitch in the dirt.
“How about that one?” Banister said.
The bases were loaded for rookie Delino DeShields, who fell behind 1-2 in the count before working a walk that forced in the game’s first run. Shin-Soo Choo followed with another bases-loaded walk, and Elvis Andrus drove in two runs with a single to center.
Prince Fielder added another run in the fourth with a two-out single to center.
The Rangers looked to be on their way, but needed a rested and improved bullpen to save the day.
“Exactly what we needed,” Martinez said. “The guys came in behind me and shut the door.”