Mike Minor isn’t easily pleased on the mound.
The Texas Rangers left-hander typically finds the one pitch — and often in 2019 it has only been one pitch — during a game that he didn’t execute. Never mind that most of the 100-plus pitches he usually throws in a night are perfectly-placed.
So it was the case Saturday night against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ballpark. The ace put together another gem, holding the Reds to four hits over six-plus innings in the Rangers’ 4-3 win.
Texas goes for the sweep at 12:10 p.m. Sunday.
It was another solid start for Minor, but far from his most dominant of the season. Even though he improved to 6-4 with the win, he was probably dwelling on the four walks (his most with the Rangers), or the two pitches the Reds hit for home runs, including Yasiel Puig’s two-run homer in the fourth, and Curt Casali’s homer in the seventh.
“He’s a tough critic on himself,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. “And I appreciate that because he’s kind of a perfectionist in that way. It’s a good indicator that a player has raised their level of expectation.”
That’s exactly what Minor has done since becoming Texas’ most dependable starter the past two seasons.
Saturday’s outing was his ninth quality start of the season. He did what aces are required to do, he helped pitch his team to victory even when he lacked his best stuff.
Chris Martin replaced Minor with one on and one out in the seventh and induced a 6-3 double play to end the inning. Jose Leclerc struck out two in a perfect eighth. Shawn Kelley pitched a scoreless ninth to earn the save.
“Obviously, the two home runs killed me,” Minor said. “Four walks and I never like to walk anybody. The pitch to Puig was actually a good pitch, it was just the wrong pitch. It was great to have the lead early.”
Rangers manager Chris Woodward said it’s a fine line between a pitcher’s high expectations for himself and letting those expectations knock him off course.
“It’s different if a guy goes out there and every pitch he’s like, ‘oh, I didn’t put that right where I wanted to,’” Woodward said. “He still competes his ass off. If it’s affecting his actual performance then you worry. For some guys it’s actually detrimental to their performance. With him, I think it actually helps him. He expects to be good every time out.”
His performance against the Reds was a perfect example of Minor not letting some control issues derail his night. After getting two quick outs in the first and second innings, he walked a batter before ending the inning. After a lead-off walk in fourth, Puig ripped a 1-2 changeup over the wall in left-center field. Minor retired the next six batters before a lead-off walk in the sixth. Even after a single gave the Reds two on with no outs, Minor retired the 3-4-5 batters in order. Rougned Odor made a backhanded stop up the middle and quick throw to a stretching Ronald Guzman to end the inning.
“His standards are really high now,” Woodward said. “Now that he’s on a higher level in every way, it’s a good thing. Because he keeps raising those expectations. Maybe [they’re] unachievable expectations, but it’s good to set your sights that high.”