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Claudio comes through to open trip with win

Rangers closer navigates jams, thwarts Angels' late threat
MLB.com @Sullivan_Ranger

Rangers starter Cole Hamels earned his ninth win in 10 decisions this year by holding the Angels to two runs in seven innings on Monday night. Hamels needed just 92 pitches in the Rangers' 5-3 victory in the first of a four-game series at Angel Stadium.

Hamels just needed Jose Leclerc and Alex Claudio to close out the final two innings and that's where it got quite tricky. Leclerc and Claudio needed 59 pitches -- 33 less than Hamels -- while allowing one run, two hits and four walks.

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Rangers starter Cole Hamels earned his ninth win in 10 decisions this year by holding the Angels to two runs in seven innings on Monday night. Hamels needed just 92 pitches in the Rangers' 5-3 victory in the first of a four-game series at Angel Stadium.

Hamels just needed Jose Leclerc and Alex Claudio to close out the final two innings and that's where it got quite tricky. Leclerc and Claudio needed 59 pitches -- 33 less than Hamels -- while allowing one run, two hits and four walks.

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But they did close it out as Claudio -- with two on and two outs in the ninth -- retired Albert Pujols on a grounder to first to end the game. The Rangers had rookie Ricky Rodriguez warming in the bullpen in the ninth in case he was needed for his fourth Major League appearance.

"I knew I didn't want to come out of that game," Claudio said. "I wanted the save badly."

Video: TEX@LAA: Claudio escapes a bases-loaded jam in 8th

The Rangers are now 1-0 at the start of a crucial 10-game road trip while chasing an American League Wild Card spot with a makeshift bullpen that almost defies description for a contending team. The Rangers current relief brigade includes four rookies, two long-march veterans in Tony Barnette and Jason Grilli and right-hander Jhan Marinez -- just claimed off waivers by his sixth Major League team.

Then there is Claudio, the closer with the 85 mph fastball who earned his seventh save by getting the final four outs.

"The walks have played big against us of late," manager Jeff Banister said. "It's a situation where Leclerc got a little aggressive with the fastball, couldn't slow it down. He was getting a little aggressive out of the strike zone. If you look at the game, we allowed seven free passes and we only got three. Typically, those haunt you in a game like this."

The Rangers are hoping for the cavalry in September when Jake Diekman, Keone Kela and Matt Bush are eligible to come off the disabled list. But right now the Rangers must make do with what they have.

"These guys are gaining experience in every single game they get in," Banister said. "In the situation tonight, where Cole had pitched really well and only given up three hits, I felt like the communication with him was that we were getting to a situation where we were going to have to face the top part of that lineup again that had gotten multiple looks on Cole with a high pitch count.

"We felt like we needed to get a fresh arm out there in Leclerc, who, when he's throwing strikes, has been an effective pitcher. He's faced those hitters before and has had success. That's how we came to that decision."

There could be many decisions like that over the next nine games of the road trip. But on Day 1 of the trip, the bullpen got it done.

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.

Texas Rangers