ARLINGTON, Texas – Quality starts have become a rarity for the Texas Rangers hit-and-miss rotation of late and Sunday was no different.
Thank goodness for the Rangers their bullpen offered up a quality finish.
The Texas bullpen picked up for a struggling Justin Grimm and strung together five scoreless innings to help the Rangers beat the Houston Astros 5-4.
The victory salvaged a 5-4 home stand for Texas and allowed them to take the series from the Astros, their seventh straight series win over Houston in Arlington.
It wasn’t an easy win or a pretty one, but the two-hit work by the bullpen helped ease some of the sting of Grimm’s four-inning start, two errors and two runners lost on base.
“Whatever it calls for that day we try and do,” said Joe Nathan, who pitched a perfect ninth for his 29th save. “Today just called for a few more innings than obviously we wanted to. Fortunately we’ve got some horses down there. We got a couple of extra guys and look how big that turned out to be.”
The first extra horse – right-hander Cory Burns – came on in the fifth after the Astros had tied the game at four and had runners on the corners with no outs. Burns, who was called up from Round Rock earlier Sunday, got a popup from Jose Altuve for the first out. He then struck out Brett Wallace on the same play that Jake Elmore was thrown out trying to steal second on his way to earning his first major-league win.
Burns then gave the ball to extra horse No. 2 Joakim Soria, who was pitching in the majors for the first time since 2011 after having Tommy John surgery. Soria, who was activated from the disabled list Sunday, pitched a perfect sixth inning after the Rangers had taken a 5-4 lead on the bottom of the fifth.
From Soria, the Rangers went to familiar horses Jason Frasor, Neal Cotts and Nathan to finish the game. The five relievers combined for seven strikeouts and didn’t walk a batter. They threw a total of 69 pitches over the final five innings, 14 fewer than it took Grimm to work the first four. Sunday marked the third time in the last seven games the Rangers have had to use five relievers in a game.
Pitching five innings to cap a home stand in which the Rangers used 41 total pitchers and no less than three in any game is tough, but at least the club will begin a road trip in Baltimore on a winning note.
“Out of everybody what Cory Burns did was most impressive,” said Frasor, who has a 0.87 ERA over his last 13 games. “We pieced it together after that and got the ball to Joe Nathan. We sit down there like animals at a zoo. When the phone rings we go in. We like getting in games.”
They’ve had plenty of opportunity lately, especially when Grimm has started. Sunday marked the fourth-consecutive start in which Grimm hasn’t pitched more than five innings.
He was spotted a 3-0 lead in the first inning on a homer from A.J. Pierzynski but couldn’t make it stand up. Houston scored two off him in the second, but he rebounded with a 1-2-3 third inning. Texas scored again in the bottom of the third but Grimm allowed single runs in the fourth and was done in by bad defense behind him in the fifth as a pair of errors allowed the tying run to score.
Despite the errors, it was Grimm who put himself in a bad situation by giving up four hits, walking two and struggling with his command.
“I’m doing the best I can, trying to stay in it mentally the best I can,” said Grimm, whose ERA is now 5.88. “I feel good. I go into every start confident, trying to erase the past. I need to get ahead. I’m falling behind a lot.”
Lucky for Grimm, the Rangers had enough offense Sunday. Texas broke the 4-4 tie when Ian Kinsler led off the sixth by reaching on an error. After an Elvis Andrus walk, Nelson Cruz singled to center to score Kinsler with what turned out to be the game-winning run.
The Texas bullpen made sure that was the case, just like it’s had to do a lot lately.