New Season, Same Rangers

6 04 2012

Timely hitting, solid defense and efficient pitching carried the Rangers to the 2011 World Series. They were all on full display Friday afternoon.

The Texas Rangers defeated the Chicago White Sox, 3-2, on Opening Day, handing Robin Ventura his first loss has the White Sox manager.

Colby Lewis had a heavy start to his day, throwing 22 pitches after only one inning. However, he effectively got out of it with one hit and no runs.

Once the Rangers had their turn to bat when John Danks took the mound, they didn’t take long to get on the scoreboard.

After a double from Ian Kinsler and a sacrifice bunt by Elvis Andrus to get Kinsler to third (sound familiar?), Josh Hamilton popped one into center field to bring Kinsler home for the 1-0 lead. These three men play great off each other going one right after the other.

Both pitchers continued to control the strike zone until Kinsler stepped up to the plate again in the bottom of the third inning. Kinsler hit a home run in the 2011 season opener, and decided to follow that up with another one in Friday’s opener.

The Rangers and Kinsler were unable to negotiate a contract extension prior to the start of this season. Nolan Ryan needs to make this a top priority. This Mizzou grad not only has great speed and a good swing (he is a proud member of the 30-30 group), his 89 walks from last season show his great ability to read pitches. What more does a baseball club need in a leadoff hitter?

The sixth inning provided some trouble for Lewis. With Texas-native Adam Dunn at the plate, Lewis threw him a fastball that covered too much of the plate, resulting in a bomb deep into center field. This puts Dunn in a very respectable group of men, tying him with Frank Robinson and Ken Griffey Jr. for most career Opening Day home runs (8).

After Alex Rios was hit by a curveball, Alexei Ramirez hit a slider that didn’t drop quickly enough, resulting in a 2-2 tie game. Lewis finished off the inning with a fitting strikeout, giving him at least one for each inning and nine for the game. This ties him with Nolan Ryan for the Rangers club record for strikeouts in an Opening Day game .

Even though he had a rocky finish, Lewis showed promise as the Rangers No. 1 pitcher. Of the 100 pitches he threw, the majority of them had great placement and only one set of pitches in the first inning resulted in a walk. He has the ability to take command of this lead spot.

As the Rangers have done countless times the past two seasons, they responded to their opponents runs.

In the bottom of the sixth inning, after Josh Hamilton’s quick single and Adrian Beltre grounded out to third, Michael Young finally got his first hit of the season as he singled to left and brought home No. 32.

Even though the big bats of Beltre, Cruz and Napoli did not do well (combined 0-10), Kinsler and Young played their role and made the contact necessary to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead going into the seventh inning stretch.

Going into the seventh inning, this is when the most impressive part of the night for the Rangers took place.

Alexi Ogando and Mike Adams tagged team the bullpen duties and did so in a methodical manner. After Ogando made three straight players go down swinging in the seventh inning, Adams came in the next inning and took care of business, leaving the White Sox with only one hit on the inning.

Then came Joe Nathan and the unbelievable first impression he gave his home crowd. After lackluster play during spring training, some of the media worried he wouldn’t be the closer the Rangers were hoping he would be. Veteran pitchers don’t always perform very well during this unimportant time, so there shouldn’t have been any concern about how he would perform.

Will Nathan be able to sustain the efficient pitching he showcased Friday?

Nathan quickly took care of that notion, just as he took care of each player that came to bat. He worked a perfect ninth inning to receive the save. More important than the perfect inning, he pitched with a certain confidence and swagger that is invaluable from a closer.

When Nathan found out the Rangers were interested in him, he told his agent to get a deal done because he wanted to play in Arlington. He didn’t want to play anywhere else. This is something that can’t be explained through statistics – a desire to play with a certain team. Hopefully Nathan can continue to have this desire and pitch as he did Friday. (Sidenote: this might be the first time a pitcher has declared he wants to pitch in Texas in the history of the game. Seriously.)

This trio of Rangers pitching can be described as nothing more than deadly. They provided their ball club with four of the Opening Day franchise-breaking 13 strikeouts. Ogando is coming of a season in which he started for a World Series team. Now going back to his old bullpen spot, he has invaluable experience under his belt. Adams (seven years) and Nathan (11 seasons) already have plenty of experience since they have both been successful up to this point in their careers. Hopefully Nathan won’t have any problems arise from his Tommy John surgery he had two years ago.

If the Rangers can get their batting to a more consistent level and the pitching can continue to do exactly what they did tonight, expect some great baseball to come from the red, white and blue.

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