Rangers turn to small ball to top Mariners in finale
Martin provides key sacrifice bunts as Scheppers turns in rough start
ARLINGTON -- A night after Leonys Martin had a two-out walk-off single, it was his ability to get down a sacrifice bunt that propelled the Rangers to an 8-6 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Thursday afternoon.
Martin twice laid down sacrifice bunts as the Rangers executed the type of small ball that manager Ron Washington champions, first helping them tie the game in the bottom of the third, and then setting them up to get the lead back in the bottom of the fifth after they had blown a 4-0 lead.
The rally helped the Rangers win their third consecutive game for the first time this season. A team that has struggled with the bats scored five runs or more for the third time in 16 games.
Without Adrian Beltre in the middle of the lineup and Prince Fielder struggling so far -- he was 0-for-3 to drop his average to .164 -- the Rangers have had to find a way to scratch out runs.
Martin's first bunt came with two strikes against tough Seattle starter Erasmo Ramirez. It came after Mitch Moreland had an RBI double to drive in Kevin Kouzmanoff to make it 6-5 and Donnie Murphy walked. Martin then missed on two bunt attempts before laying one down in front of the mound to set up the tying run as Moreland scored on a grounder to shortstop by J.P. Arencibia.
The Rangers used the sacrifice bunt again in the bottom of the fifth. Moreland walked and Murphy had a single to set up another Martin sacrifice, this one on his first bunt attempt. Moreland scored again on a grounder, again by Arencibia, and Murphy came home to make it 8-6 on a wild pitch by Mariners reliever Joe Beimel.
Arencibia didn't seem like the prime candidate to give up an out to move runners over -- he entered Thursday's game with two hits in 24 at-bats, neither of those hits coming in nine at-bats with runners in scoring position.
But twice Washington put him in a run-producing situation, and twice it worked, even though Arencibia made outs both times.
"Arencibia is a part of this team," Washington said. "He has to do it, too. I put him in a situation where we needed him to produce and he got us two runs. Two productive outs … when you're in situations that we were in today, we needed Martin to get the bunt down and at least scratch out a run. Somehow we got four runs out of it."
The Rangers also got production out of the five and six spots in the lineup. Kouzmanoff and Moreland combined to go 4-for-8 with four RBIs.
"I just have to do the things, we all have to do the things that are us," Kouzmanoff said. "We can't step outside of ourselves. Stealing bases, advancing a base with the ball in the dirt, Leonys laying down those bunts, that small game, that stuff is pretty important. That's what wins ball games. That's what happened today."
The bullpen did the rest. Starting with Hector Noesi, five Rangers relievers blanked the Mariners for 6 2/3 innings. Pedro Figueroa picked up his second career win in as many nights, pitching 1 2/3 scoreless innings, and Joakim Soria made it save No. 2 with a perfect ninth to highlight a great day for the bullpen.
"They were just outstanding," Washington said.
Meanwhile, the Tanner Scheppers experiment as a starting pitcher continued on its path to perhaps him returning to the bullpen, as well as the relief corps pitched. Scheppers hasn't looked like the same dominant pitcher he was last season when he had 27 holds and a 1.88 ERA as the Rangers' setup man for closer Joe Nathan.
Scheppers saw a 4-0 lead evaporate in the top of third as the right-hander gave up a six-run inning, the second time he's done that this season.
Scheppers has been the victim of the big inning -- 17 of the 20 runs he's allowed in four starts have come in three innings. He has allowed two six-run innings, plus a five-run inning in his last start against Houston. His 9.82 ERA is the highest of any pitcher in the American League with a minimum of one inning pitched per team game played.
The long ball got Scheppers in the top of the third. After a single and a walk, Scheppers tried to go with an 0-1 changeup to Robinson Cano, and it backfired. Cano hammered a three-run homer into the right-field seats, his first home run as a Mariner in his 15th game with his new team. Corey Hart then launched a home run to left field to tie the game at 4-4.
Scheppers then allowed a one-out walk to Nick Franklin and a single to Justin Smoak and was pulled from the game. The Rangers lost the lead with Noesi, recently acquired from the Mariners, giving up a two-run double to Dustin Ackley to give Seattle a 6-4 lead.
Scheppers' transition to the rotation means he's using his secondary pitches such as his changeup more often.
"It came back right down the middle," Arencibia said of Cano's homer. "Good pitches usually don't get hit out. A lot of the balls that were hit are missed locations. That's just the game. You execute your pitches to hurt people, and if you don't, if you leave pitches up … look at the other guy [Ramirez]. He's an unbelievable starter. He's one of the best in the league. But if you leave balls up, it doesn't matter what the name of the guy is on the back of his jersey. It's going to get hit."
Scheppers' next start would be Tuesday at Oakland. Nick Martinez, who opened the season in the Rangers' rotation, was scheduled to pitch for Double-A Frisco on Thursday night. But there has been no discussion about Scheppers going back to the bullpen.
"It's nothing that has crossed my mind," Washington said. "We know it's a work in progress."
Scheppers was waiting at his locker after the game and said he is ready to move on to the next start.
"It doesn't feel good for something like this," Scheppers said. "Luckily the bullpen picked me up … I don't think I'm pitching to my ability. Yes it is frustrating, but all I can do is move on."
Kouzmanoff helped the Rangers jump out to a 4-0 lead. He collected a hit in his eighth straight game as a Ranger, a two-out RBI single after Fielder was intentionally walked, scoring Elvis Andrus for a 1-0 lead. Moreland followed with a two-run single to center field for a 3-0 lead.
Shin-Soo Choo gave the Rangers a 4-0 lead with two outs in the top of the second inning with his first home run with Texas, a 404-foot shot to right field.