Scheppers, Freeman inspiring confidence
Duo combines to throw scoreless eighth, thwart Royals' threat
KANSAS CITY -- Tanner Scheppers found himself back in his former eighth-inning setup role Saturday when he was asked to hold a three-run lead against the Royals at Kauffman Stadium.
An error by shortstop Elvis Andrus kept him from finishing his appointed task, but left-hander Sam Freeman came on to get the final out of the inning as the Rangers held on for a 4-2 victory and won for the 14th time in 17 games.
The Rangers' bullpen is working without defined roles, and one reason for that is Scheppers' struggles through the first two months of the season. In late April, he was sent to the Minor Leagues for three weeks to work out his issues. He is 2-0 with a 3.38 ERA in 10 games since his return on May 17, with opponents hitting .177 against him.
"I feel a lot better than I did at the beginning of the year," Scheppers said. "I'm more comfortable with my stuff and making better pitches."
Manager Jeff Banister said Scheppers was used in the eighth inning because the Rangers liked the matchups and what they have been seeing from Scheppers, whose velocity reached 97 mph.
"We see an explosive fastball," Banister said. "We see the command and the breaking ball is showing up. He has confidence in himself. He is throwing quality strikes, not just strikes."
Scheppers started the inning by getting Alcides Escobar on a fly to center and Mike Moustakas on a grounder to second. Lorenzo Cain followed with a grounder to Andrus, who may have been distracted by third baseman Joey Gallo cutting in front of him trying to make the play.
"Yeah, it's all right, he'll learn," Andrus said.
Andrus fumbled the ball and Eric Hosmer followed with a single to right-center, putting runners at the corners. That prompted Banister to go with Freeman to face switch-hitter Kendrys Morales. The Rangers wanted Morales to hit from the right side, but Freeman is also beginning to gain the team's trust in crucial situations.
"I'm not thinking about that, I'm just trying to get outs quickly," Freeman said.
He did. Freeman threw two split-fingered fastballs, and Morales hit the second one right back to the pitcher, who tossed easily to first to end the threat. Freeman has not allowed a run in his past five games, holding opponents to 1-for-9 without a walk. He also has not allowed four inherited runners to score.
That left the ninth inning to Shawn Tolleson. He gave up a home run to Salvador Perez but that was it. Tolleson is 7-for-7 in save opportunities.