MILWAUKEE (AP) Chris Ray started throwing curveballs in games about a month ago after playing with the pitch with teammate Darren Oliver.
Ray’s rare offering saved Texas’ bullpen from a big meltdown.
The former Baltimore closer saved his first game since 2007 by getting Prince Fielder to pop up after the other relievers nearly blew Scott Feldman’s six scoreless innings in Texas’ 4-3 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday night.
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“I’ve been working it in a good bit lately, it’s good against lefties,” said Ray, who isn’t sure the pitch is on scouting reports yet. “The ball’s not moving towards them. It’s a good difference off the speed of my fastball. It’s a good pitch to get guys off-balance.”
It was also effective just in time to get the Rangers out of a giant jam.
Ray came in with one out and the bases loaded after closer Neftali Feliz allowed an RBI single to Rickie Weeks that made it 4-2. He got NL home run leader Corey Hart to hit into a run-scoring fielder’s choice before forcing Fielder to pop out to left field on a full-count fastball to finish 0 for 5.
“The guy can hit fastballs, he’s proven that,” Ray said. “I tried to get ahead of him, really didn’t do it. I had to give him his fastball. It looked like he was right on it, fouled it straight back.
“That’s when I started throwing the curveball. Then I thought after I slowed him down a little bit, I’d be able to beat his bat a little bit with the fastball.”
Josh Hamilton hit his 14th homer of the season and Feldman (4-6) left with a 4-0 lead, looking closer to the 17-game winner he was last season than the player who had given up three runs or more in six of his previous seven starts.
Oliver pitched a scoreless seventh, Frank Francisco allowed an RBI double to Ryan Braun in the eighth and it looked as if the Brewers might rally off Feliz in the ninth.
Instead, Ray saved his first game since July 15, 2007. He had reconstructive elbow surgery the next month and hadn’t been back in a closer’s role since.
“Last year it was rough, the whole season I had a problem with mechanics and trying to find my arm slot,” Ray said. “This year, finally, I can go out there and pitch without having to think about mechanics.”
Justin Smoak’s two-run double in the first and Hamilton’s sixth-inning shot off Brewers starter Manny Parra (1-4) gave Texas a 3-0 lead. Hamilton extended his hitting streak to nine, picking up the offense with Vladimir Guerrero sitting out every other game of this interleague trip.
David Murphy’s RBI single in the eighth off reliever Chris Capuano made it 4-0.
Feldman had gone 17 starts without a scoreless appearance and escaped big jams in the first and second innings that started because of his questionable command. He hit Weeks with a pitch, walked three and plunked home plate umpire Gary Cederstrom twice with pitches in consecutive innings when catcher Matt Treanor couldn’t handle the throws.
“I kept hitting him. I felt bad, I was like, ‘Please don’t hold that against me,'” Feldman said. “I got crossed up with Matty there. I threw a changeup and he was expecting a curveball.
“I was finding all ways to hit him.”
All that may have played into his favor after he settled down.
The Brewers looked uncomfortable against him. Feldman struck out a season-high six, including Fielder and Jim Edmonds twice.
“He threw really well,” Hart said. “We looked at some of his previous starts, and his curveball wasn’t nearly as effective as it was tonight.”
Milwaukee is 4-17 when failing to hit a home run. Hart, Fielder, Braun and Casey McGehee finished 2 of 17 with five strikeouts after all four had homered the night before.
The Rangers sat Guerrero and his majors-leading 54 RBIs because manager Ron Washington wants to limit his innings in the outfield on this nine-game trip.
And while it appeared there would be a big hole in the lineup, Smoak and Hamilton gave the Rangers enough runs to rebound from a 6-2 loss in Friday’s opener after scoring 31 in their previous three games, all wins.
“Our lineup is really dangerous when we can get everyone one through nine working,” said Michael Young, who is two hits away from tying Ivan Rodriguez’s franchise record with 1,747. “When the bottom third of our lineup gets going, we have a chance to be a pretty dynamic offense.”
NOTES: Pinch hitter Julio Borbon extended his hitting streak to 10 when he beat out a bunt in the ninth. … Weeks got his 500th career hit with a double in the fifth. … Rangers RHP Rich Harden (strained left gluteus muscle) went on the 15-day disabled list. … Milwaukee sends ace RHP Yovani Gallardo (6-2, 2.41 ERA) to face RHP Colby Lewis (5-4, 3.40) in the series finale Sunday.