DETROIT -- Jesse Chavez erased any doubt Tuesday night that he isn’t worthy of filling a spot in Texas' starting rotation.
Making his first traditional start this year, Chavez allowed one unearned run in 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball to lead the Rangers to a series-opening 5-3 win over the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on Tuesday night.
Chavez, who has been used primarily as a long reliever this season, was called upon to fill the spot in the rotation vacated by left-hander Drew Smyly. He responded by striking out seven and inducing seven groundouts, helping the Rangers capture their third straight win.
“I try to rely on location, as much as I can -- and some days I have it, some days I don’t,” Chavez said. “Today, I did.”
It was an impressive road win for the Rangers (43-36), who have now won 10 of their last 16 away from home after winning just five of their first 20 road games.
And it was an impressive start for Chavez, who seemingly silenced any critics suggesting he wouldn’t be a serviceable fit in Texas’ five-man rotation.
“He definitely exposed [Detroit’s] weaknesses from a pitching standpoint,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. “He let their aggressiveness kind of work against them. There’s nobody better on our team at executing pitches, and that’s what he did all day.”
Chavez needed just 55 pitches in his first five innings, thanks largely to an eight-pitch inning and a pair of nine-pitch innings.
“I was just trying to get the guys in the dugout as quick as I can,” Chavez said. “With our offense, who knows what they can do any inning. If I get off the mound as quick as I can and give those guys a chance, good things will happen.”
The Tigers threatened in the ninth inning when Ronny Rodriguez hit a two-run homer off Shelby Miller with two outs, but the right-hander got Bobby Wilson to fly out to escape the late-inning jam.
Activated from the 10-day injured list earlier in the day, Joey Gallo went 1-for-4 with an RBI double, one walk and three strikeouts in his return. Named as a finalist for the 2019 Google MLB All-Star Starters Election, Gallo showed no signs of discomfort at the plate or in the field after missing the previous 22 games with a left oblique strain. He played a full nine innings in center field.
“He knows he’s a big part of our lineup,” Woodward said. “You can’t replace a guy like Joey Gallo in the lineup. He knows he's important in there. He knows how important it is when he draws walks.”
Chavez (3-2, 2.79 ERA) was on a pitch count of 80 or so, but he cruised through five shutout innings before running into trouble in the sixth. He gave up three consecutive singles, one of which resulted in an Elvis Andrus throwing error that allowed the Tigers’ lone run while Chavez was on the mound. But perhaps most impressive, Chavez worked out of the jam -- getting Brandon Dixon to chase a cutter for a strikeout before inducing Christin Stewart into an inning-ending groundout.
“Based on those hits, I knew I had a chance to get out of it,” Chavez said of the make-or-break sixth-inning jam. “But that was a good test for me, and it was a good test for the manager to trust me in that situation. Especially in my first traditional start that wasn’t an opener.”
Chavez returned for the seventh inning and struck out Niko Goodrum before being lifted for Locke St. John, who retired the only two batters he faced in his Major League debut.
“We’ve been dying to get [St. John] in there,” Woodward said. “I’ve felt like a bad manager not getting him in there before today.”
Chavez has now allowed only two earned runs in his last 22 appearances.
“We knew that they’re young and they love to swing the bat, so if you do make quality pitches early in counts, you get them off the barrel a little bit and you get a lot of first-pitch outs,” Woodward said. “That’s kind of what we saw.”
Ronald Guzmán recorded his seventh home run of the season, a 438-foot blast to dead center, and finished 2-for-3 with a pair of RBIs.
“To take a slider to dead center off a lefty showed me a lot,” Woodward said. “He said he’s feeling good, he said he’s getting locked in and we’re starting to see it.”