Rangers feeling positive ahead of Athletics’ visit

ARLINGTON, Texas — The Texas Rangers feel some familiar magic going into the opener of a three-game home series against the Oakland A’s on Friday.

Texas (16-20) won its third in a row by scoring five unanswered runs to beat the San Diego Padres 5-2 on Thursday night. Mike Napoli hit a three-run homer — his second long ball of the night — to end it.

“Building momentum is a huge thing,” Rangers catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. “Obviously, a division series is coming up, and we have a chance to make up some ground.”

The Rangers made a living last season on their way to the American League West title by winning close games and rallying late. Both of those have been sorely lacking this season as Texas has sunk to the bottom of the division.

If the Rangers are going to make up any ground, Napoli needs to play a big part. He joined the club for the third time this offseason after posting career highs in homers (34) and RBIs (101) for the Cleveland Indians last season.

Napoli is batting just .172, but his seven home runs are second on the team and his 17 RBIs are tied for third. Manager Jeff Banister sees improvement coming from the 35-year-old slugger.

“I really believe just the at-bats and the work that he’s been putting in, the timing has gotten much better,” Banister said. “Looked like (he’s) getting that foot down in time and the barrel in good position.

“He’s a guy that right now they all gravitate towards, talk to, listen to, about their swings. I think, more than anything else, he’s poured himself into his work. He’s been out early pretty much every day with a lot of these young guys, and just grinding through at-bats.”

The Rangers did see another veteran leader on the field before the Thursday game as Adrian Beltre took batting practice for the first time in three weeks. The injured third baseman also fielded ground balls, but he hasn’t been cleared to run at full speed. His return from a strained right calf remains uncertain.

“He has been on a treadmill, and he has been in a swimming pool,” Banister said. “He hasn’t done anything on flat ground. He’ll be ready when he is ready. There is no timetable to speak of.”

Banister added that the Rangers haven’t decided whether to send Beltre on a rehab assignment before activating him. Beltre could get extra at-bats in extended spring training in Arizona.

Oakland (16-18) heads to Texas to start of a six-game trek. The A’s went 2-7 on their last trip — Los Angeles Angels (0-3), Houston (1-2) and Minnesota (1-2) — and are 5-10 on the road this season. After the weekend series with the Rangers, the A’s will play three games in Seattle.

Oakland sends right-hander Jesse Hahn (1-2, 3.03 ERA) to the mound in the Texas opener. He is 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA in two games against the Rangers this season. In five career appearances (four starts) vs. Texas, Hahn is 1-1 with a 4.13 ERA.

The A’s (16-18) won their two recent home series, with Andrew Triggs picking up the victory Wednesday night in a 3-1 decision over the Angels.

“We know we’re a good team when everybody is clicking,” Triggs said. “We’re coming around, and it was a really fun homestand, and we want to take that momentum into the next road trip.”

The A’s were off Thursday but did make a significant move by optioning promising rookie starter Jharel Cotton to Triple-A Nashville. The 25-year-old right-hander was 3-4 with a 5.68 ERA in seven outings, but he was leading all rookies with 35 strikeouts.

The move makes room in the rotation for lefty Sean Manaea, who should come off the disabled list next week after missing two starts with a strained shoulder. Catcher Josh Phegley is expected to be activated from the seven-day concussion DL on Friday.

The Rangers will look for another solid outing Friday from right-hander Andrew Cashner, who has three quality starts in his five appearances this season yet remains winless. Cashner (0-3, 2.63 ERA) held the Mariners to one run in six innings during a no-decision at Seattle on Sunday.

In two career games (one start) vs. Oakland, Cashner has no record and a 7.11 ERA.