Texas Rangers

Rangers turn to Chi Chi Gonzalez for Yankees opener

Chi Chi Gonzalez happy to join winning Rangers

Pitcher Chi Chi Gonzalez happy to join the Rangers winning clubhouse (Video by Stefan Stevenson/Star-Telegram).
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Pitcher Chi Chi Gonzalez happy to join the Rangers winning clubhouse (Video by Stefan Stevenson/Star-Telegram).

No offense to First Tennessee Park in Nashville, but it’s no match for Yankee Stadium.

Right-hander Chi Chi Gonzalez will make his first major league start of the season against the Yankees on Monday as the Rangers begin another 10-game road trip.

3.90 Chi Chi Gonzalez’s ERA in 14 appearances (10 starts) in 67 innings for the Rangers in 2015.

The venue shouldn’t affect Gonzalez, manager Jeff Banister said, because he’s been there, done that. Sure, it’s his first career start at Yankee Stadium but four of his 10 starts in 2015 were on the road. He pitched well, too. He had an ERA of 2.87 in  31 1/3 innings on the road, including a complete-game shutout in Kansas City in his first career road start last June.

“I think he’ll be fine in that regard. I don’t sense that Chi Chi is the type of guy who lets that kind of stuff affect him much,” Banister said. “I think he believes who he is and what he can do. He just needs to go out and use all his pitches. Don’t look at the uniform, just pitch.”

Just manage the game. Don’t try to do more and give this offense an opportunity to put some runs on the board for him.

Jeff Banister’s advice to Chi Chi Gonzalez

Gonzalez started poorly this season for Triple A Round Rock but has pitched well in five of his last seven starts. Left-handed reliever Alex Claudio was optioned to Triple A Round Rock after Sunday’s game to make room for Gonzalez.

“I just want to help out and help this team win and fill the shoes of Colby [Lewis],” he said of a Rangers situation in which Lewis is out at least two months with a back muscle strain. “It’s unfortunate that happened. He was doing great this year. It’s almost sad that happened. It gives me an opportunity. That’s all I want to do is fill his spot and compete like he has.”

Trusting his stuff and throwing more strikes has been the key, Gonzalez said. He hopes that confidence and his experience from 2015 carries over while he’s with the Rangers helping fill the void left by injuries to Lewis and Derek Holland.

“This can be a stressful place to play and perform. I think early on young guys are trying to survive, and when things get a little sideways they go into survival mode, and surviving mode is not always the best performing mode,” said Banister, who wasn’t specifically describing Gonzalez. “He’s got experience. He had an opportunity and I felt like early on he really took advantage of the opportunity.”

Chi Chi Gonzalez was moved down to Triple A Friday but manager Jeff Banister says he expects the right-hander will pitch "meaningful" innings in Arlington this season (Video by Stefan Stevenson/Star-Telegram).

Tolleson lately

Reliever Shawn Tolleson hasn’t allowed a run in his last five appearances (seven innings), including perfect ninths Saturday and Sunday. Since losing the closer role Tolleson has slowly been reintegrated into the mix. His success could be crucial to the long-term depth of the bullpen.

“I feel good. I’ve felt good all year, I’m just getting hit less, that’s all there really is to it,” Tolleson said. “I’ve tried tweaking a few things here and there, but in the end I think it was more about me just getting out there and throwing aggressively and not worrying about where the ball is.”

The success, however, rebuilt his confidence.

“Confidence, whether you know it’s there or not, probably has something to do with it. When you go out there time and time again and you have success, you expect those results,” said Tolleson, who had a career-high 35 saves in 37 opportunities as the closer in 2015.

Tolleson was replaced by Sam Dyson on May 17 after blowing four chances in the first month and a half this season.

“Sometimes when you get caught in a rut you kind of have to figure out a way to not expect those results but expect good results,” Tolleson said.

Banister said Tolleson has slowed his delivery down, but even more important, he said, is improved command.

“When a pitcher can put the ball where he wants to he’s going to have much greater success,” Banister said.

Big-inning offense

The Rangers lead the American League with 12 innings of five or more runs, including the fifth inning Saturday. They’re tied with the Reds for the major league lead. In 2015, the Rangers had just 13 such innings.

Starter Martin Perez was able to attack hitters after the Rangers spotted him a three-run lead in the first inning Sunday, catcher Bryan Holaday said (Video by Stefan Stevenson/Star-Telegram).

Rangers designated hitter Prince Fielder said it's important to finish the first half strong to maintain and build on the division lead (Video by Stefan Stevenson/Star-Telegram).

Stefan Stevenson: 817-390-7760, @StevensonFWST

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