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Rangers rookie stifles punchless Rays


Published:   |   Updated: April 10, 2013 at 07:58 AM
ARLINGTON, Texas -

Tampa Bay Rays pitchers have been mistreated a lot worse by Texas Rangers lineups than Roberto Hernandez was Tuesday night. But had the game been a prize fight, Hernandez would have lost on points.

The Rangers did not deliver a knockout blow in their 6-1 victory at Rangers Ballpark.

Instead they jabbed away at Hernandez with a trio of three-run innings that dropped the Rays to 3-5 overall and 0-2 on this 10-game road trip.

Hernandez, now 0-6 in his last 8 starts in Arlington, is 0-2 this season and has allowed nine earned runs in 13 1/3 innings.

“They didn't really crush the ball,” second baseman Ben Zobrist said. “I thought Roberto threw pretty well, and to give up five (earned) runs on some of those hits that they had that was a tough break. It didn't show how well I thought he pitched.”

Of course, it might now have mattered how well Hernandez threw Tuesday, because the night belonged to Rangers 24-year-old right-hander Nick Tepesch, who made his major league debut.

Tepesch, who made one start above Double A in his pro career (and that came April 4 at Triple A as a tune-up for Tuesday's start) held the Rays to just four hits. He retired 12 straight at one point and allowed only four balls hit out of the infield.

“I thought he did a great job,” Zobrist said. “He threw strikes. He mixed the ball up. For his first big league start I was impressed.”

The Rays loaded the bases against Tepesch in the third inning on three walks, the last two coming to Yunel Escobar and Jose Molina with two out. But Tepesch got Kelly Johnson to look at a called third strike to escape the jam.

Desmond Jennings led off the inning with a double and scored on a groundout by Zobrist to give the Rays a 1-0 lead. But the lead would be short-lived and the run only one Tepesch and two relievers would allow.

“I was trying to make too good of pitches rather than just quality pitches,” Tepesch said. “I just started making quality pitches, have them put it in play and hopefully get a ground ball right at somebody.”

Tepesch did a lot of that, getting the Rays to hit into 15 ground ball outs.

With very little to go on in the way of scouting reports of Tepesch, Rays manager Joe Maddon said Monday he didn't want to the Rays to expand their strike zone and make it easy on the rookie. He said he wanted his hitters to make Tepesch work for his outs.

Maddon felt the Rays did just that despite the feeble output.

“I thought they were fine.” Maddon said. “We just haven't been hitting the ball as a group.”

Evan Longoria and Zobrist are the only two Rays hitting with any consistency, and both were held hitless Tuesday. Jennings, who entered the game 1-for-13 in his previous four games after a solid start to the season, had a pair of doubles.

The rest of the Rays offense has been inconsistent.

“It's so early in the year that you really can't get concerned,” Maddon said.

Still, there are two alarming trends that continue to appear: the Rays failure to hit with the bases loaded and the pitching staff's habit of allowing two-out runs.

Three of the Rangers' six runs came with two outs. Of the 44 runs the Rays have allowed this season, 27 have come with two out.

And the Rays are 0-for-10 with a pair of walks with the bases loaded this season.

“We're definitely owed there,” Maddon said. “Somebody's got to pay for that.”

After the way Monday night's game ended, the Rays talked Tuesday about bad calls and bad moments evening out over the course of the season. If the Rays are indeed owed some good fortune because of Monday's loss, it didn't appear Tuesday.

“It hasn't showed up yet,” Maddon said. “It's on a slow train from Midland.”

rmooney@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7227

Twitter: @RMooneyTBO

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