At no time in the 10 days before Cole Hamels took the mound Monday night did the Texas Rangers think they had better find a way to get that guy going.
His first two starts after the eight-player trade with Philadelphia weren’t exactly awe-inspiring, but it’s not like he pitched poorly.
“I don’t think so,” said Bobby Wilson, who caught Hamels’ Aug. 1 debut against San Francisco and his Aug. 6 start at Seattle. “I think he threw the ball pretty well.”
Neither performance, though, resulted in a Rangers victory, and opponents hit five home runs in 13 1/3 innings. Amid the high expectations generated by the trade, that wasn’t quite enough.
Hamels couldn’t have agreed more.
Maybe that was on his mind for start No. 3, his best yet in a Rangers uniform even though he had some command issues and didn’t factor in the decision.
But the Rangers won for the first time in a Hamels start, as they used two bunt hits, a hit batsman and a bases-loaded walk by Adrian Beltre in the ninth inning for a 4-3 walk-off victory over the Mariners.
It was the Rangers’ fifth straight win, one that moved them within three games of first-place Houston in the American League West and kept them a game behind Baltimore for the second wild card.
“We’re playing with a lot of confidence,” Beltre said. “We’re doing better in situational hitting, and the pitching has been great. We’ve got to keep it up.”
Beltre and Shin-Soo Choo were the stars, with Hamels getting an assist after allowing three runs on seven hits in seven innings. He walked four and stuck out eight during a 100-pitch night in which he was terrific early but twice couldn’t provide a shutdown inning.
As the Rangers’ catchers tell it, Hamels isn’t that far off and doesn’t need to be straightened out.
“That’s something he’s going to do by himself,” said Chris Gimenez, who caught Hamels for the first time. “I feel like you have to give a guy a few days to get used to his new surroundings, new catchers, new coaching staff and just the new scenery in general.”
Hamels exited in a 3-3 tie, which the Rangers broke rather easily in the ninth. They loaded the bases on only five pitches against Fernando Rodney, who allowed consecutive bunt hits to Ryan Strausborger and Delino DeShields to start the inning before plunking Choo.
Prince Fielder struck out, but Beltre got ahead 3-0 in the count, took a strike, and then watched ball four come in just low.
“You see what speed can do for you and veteran guys in the middle of the lineup that were patient and didn’t get out of control,” manager Jeff Banister said. “That’s what we need.”
The Rangers also need more starts like the one Hamels provided them.
He breezed through the first three innings, striking out four, but he walked the first two batters in the fourth and allowed singles to the first two in the fifth.
Each time a run scored, wiping out a 2-0 Rangers lead on RBI doubles by Beltre in the first and third, but each time the Mariners could have done far more damage.
Seattle had runners at second and third with one out in the fourth, but Hamels struck out Denton native Austin Jackson and got Mark Trumbo to ground out. In the fifth, Hamels got an inning-ending double play with runners at first and second.
Hamels worked an easy sixth and came back for the seventh with a 3-2 lead after a sacrifice fly by Strausborger scored Elvis Andrus. But the first two Mariners reached, and again one scored but again damage was limited as Choo caught a Kyle Seager fly ball and threw home to nail Logan Morrison as he tried to score.
“Making quality pitches is something I haven’t been able to do the past couple of weeks, and that’s something I definitely need to work on,” said Hamels, who was pitching out of turn after taking a few extra days for a sore groin. “You definitely need to give credit to Choo and a lot of the defensive plays, because they definitely kept us in the ballgame.”
Banister wasn’t as harsh a critic as Hamels. The Choo throw saved the game, but Hamels also gave the Rangers a chance by limiting the damage.
“That’s the mark of a veteran pitcher,” Banister said. “It’s the mark of a guy who obviously knows how to pitch. To do what he did for us, to limit the damage and keep the game in a spot where we could do what we did late, I thought it was a really solid job by Cole.”
His best yet in a Rangers uniform.
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760