DETROIT -- Austin Bibens-Dirkx took the mound for the Rangers' series finale Sunday afternoon against the Tigers knowing that he had to do his part to help give a rest to a bullpen that was called on to pitch almost a complete game the day before. He did his part by delivering one of the best starts of his young Major League career in a 3-0 win at Comerica Park.
Bibens-Dirkx faced the minimum 15 batters through five innings. He finished with 5 1/3 innings of scoreless ball, allowing just three hits and one walk with five strikeouts.
"I'm not a guy that has a [Keone] Kela fastball," Bibens-Dirkx said. "I have to get ahead. I have to make them defensive. I don't have the luxury of missing a pitch. I had to make sure I attacked."
Bibens-Dirkx got plenty of help from his bullpen later, to be sure, but before that, it was the defense that kept the basepaths mostly clear. Isiah Kiner-Falefa caught JaCoby Jones trying to steal second in the first inning, and a 6-4-3 double play erased a leadoff single in the third inning.
The 33-year-old Bibens-Dirkx was especially thankful to Kiner-Falefa.
"Kiner did a heck of a job back there, again," Bibens-Dirkx said of the 23-year-old rookie catcher/utility infielder. "The thing that I really like that he does very well is he does his homework. He pitches to my strengths. He doesn't necessarily try to go to the hitters' weaknesses. He pitches to my strengths, and I feel like that's one of the reasons we work really well together."
Bibens-Dirkx went to just two three-ball counts on the day. He got through the first one with a strikeout of Jeimer Candelario, but the second resulted in a walk to Victor Reyes. That was the first time the Tigers had multiple runners on base, and it marked the end of Bibens-Dirkx's day, at a career low with 81 pitches. Jose Leclerc came on and struck out two to get out of the inning without any damage.
Leclerc went on to strike out a season-high five of the six batters he faced in 1 2/3 innings. Jake Diekman took the mound to throw a scoreless eighth inning, and Keone Kela extended his franchise record by converting his 22nd consecutive save to begin the season.
Manager Jeff Banister -- on a day when Shin-Soo Choo dramatically set a franchise record by extending his on-base streak to 47 games in the ninth, and one in which Banister was ejected in the second for arguing an interference call -- still revelled in the performances by his starter and bullpen to get a 2-2 series split against the Tigers.
"You saw zeros on the board, right?" Banister said. "They were great performances all around. We needed a solid start today, based on the usage of the bullpen yesterday. We needed some length out of him, and he gave us exactly what we needed. For Leclerc to come in in that situation and clean that inning up, then go back out and pitch a clean inning was huge. Diekman has been great for us out of the bullpen. And then [Kela], another really solid performance by him. We needed that to be able to get a split today."
The Rangers' offense did its work in the first two innings. Jurickson Profar hit a solo home run to right-center field in the first off Tigers starter Michael Fulmer. The Rangers then sent seven batters to the plate in the second and scored two runs on an RBI single by Ronald Guzman and an error by first baseman John Hicks on Choo's grounder.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
When Leclerc took over for Bibens-Dirkx with one out in the fifth, the Tigers had the top of their order coming up with Jones and Candelario. Leclerc finished off Jones with a 1-2 slider that was tipped into Kiner-Falefa's glove for the second out. He then got Candelario to whiff on a 2-2 fastball that came in at 95 mph to end the frame.
Guzman, whose one-out single in the ninth allowed Choo the chance to extend his on-base streak, finished 3-for-4 with an RBI. Over his last five games in which he's registered an at-bat, Guzman is hitting .526 (10-for-19) with two extra-base hits and two RBIs.
HE SAID IT
"I looked at it later on video. It looked like to me he was on the line. Kind of splitting hairs there. We've seen some more egregious situations that weren't called. However, it's the judgment of the umpire. He makes the call. Apparently it was just a situation where I said a little too much, and I got put in timeout." -- Banister, on being ejected
The Rangers head to Fenway Park on Monday for a three-game stint against the Red Sox with a 6:10 p.m. CT first pitch. Mike Minor (6-4, 4.63 ERA) will take the bump for Texas. Minor last went six innings and gave up four runs against the Astros. He'll be going up against Eduardo Rodriguez (10-3, 3.84 ERA), who last threw six shutout innings against the Nationals.