ARLINGTON, Texas — It’s been a long time coming for the Texas Rangers to get the kind of start out of a No. 5 starter that Nick Tepesch delivered Tuesday.
That it came in his major-league debut makes it even more remarkable.
Tepesch, who was called up from Triple A before the game, pitched 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball as the Rangers beat Tampa Bay 6-1.
Tepesch is the first starter outside the top four of the Texas rotation to win a start since Aug. 4, 2012, when Scott Feldman beat Kansas City.
It looked early on like that streak would be extended. Tepesch, who had just one start above Double A in his career, needed 43 pitches to get out of the first two innings. He worked out of trouble in a three-walk second inning.
But that’s also when Tepesch started to shine. By the time he left the game in the eighth inning, he was in line to be just the 14th pitcher in Texas history to win a start in his major-league debut and just the fifth in club history to pitch at least 7 1/3 innings in his first start and allow as little as one run.
“It means a lot,” said Tepesch, who was doused with beer and shaving cream following his debut. “It’s what I’ve been working for since I’ve been playing this game. There’s still a lot of hard work left to go though.”
The right-hander gave up all three of his walks in the second inning and he ended up striking out five. He used his sinker, curveball and slider to keep the Rays off balance and pounding the ball into the ground. Tepesch got 16 ground-ball outs from of the Rays and retired 12 consecutive batters at one point.
“He was in command after that second inning,” Texas manager Ron Washington said. “He took charge. He’s got tremendous makeup, trusts his stuff, knows what he’s capable of doing, never gets outside himself. Those are the traits he saw in spring training.”
The makeup was challenged early. He walked consecutive batters with two outs in the second of a scoreless game to load the bases. But he came back to strike out Kelly Johnson to end that threat in a scoreless game.
He ran into trouble again in the third after Desmond Jennings opened the inning with a double. But he prevented the big inning from materializing once again as the limited Tampa Bay to just one run in that inning as he followed the Jennings double up by getting three groundball outs.
Avoiding the big inning gave the 24-year-old a confidence boost.
“I felt like I made a good adjustment,” said Tepesch, who allowed just four hits. “I think early on I was trying to make too good of pitches instead of just making quality pitches. It’s a matter of controlling it and letting it happen.”
The Tepesch start impressed his veteran teammates.
“He was poised,” catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. “It seemed like as the game went, he actually got better. He got some of the nervous energy out and he settled in and pitched a great game for us. Big league debuts can usually go one of two ways, either really well or really bad. Once he got out the second and third inning you could see him relax.”
It also helped that the offense got going against Roberto Hernandez. The Rangers came back in the bottom of the third and scored twice on a Lance Berkman single. They added two more in the fifth off Hernandez and another two in the seventh.
The Rangers had 10 hits with Berkman and Elvis Andrus each collecting two RBI. The big lead was more than enough for Tepesch, who threw 104 pitches (62 for strikes).