Rangers offense erupts in win vs. Nats
Francisco gets big outs; seven-run seventh opens floodgates
WASHINGTON -- Kason Gabbard earned the win, his first since April 4. Luis Mendoza pitched the final three innings to earn a save, the first of his Major League career.But it was Frank Francisco who had the big moment on the mound for the Rangers, getting the two biggest outs of the game in a crucial moment in a 13-3 victory over the Nationals on Saturday night at Nationals Park.
In doing so, Francisco gave the Rangers something that they have been craving for out of their bullpen: a reliever who can come into the game in the middle innings and shut down an opposing team's rally without letting things get ugly.Francisco did just that, even if he did flirt with walking home the tying run. Remember, the Rangers have the dubious distinction of having walked 13 batters with the bases loaded this season, most in the American League. Francisco didn't do that this time. Instead, he shut down the Nationals' sixth-inning rally, walked off the mound with the Rangers still leading, 4-3, and then sat back as he his offensive teammates responded to his work by scoring seven runs in the top of the seventh inning. "He did one heckuva job shutting them down," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "Then our offense woke up. That's his job. That's what he's supposed to do. It doesn't always work that way, but it's nice when it does." Michael Young, who broke out of a nine-game slump, had a two-run single in that seventh inning, giving him three hits on the night. Young, who has been dealing with a hairline fracture in the ring finger on his left hand, had just two hits in his previous 38 at-bats coming into the game. "I'm fine," Young said. "I have been feeling fine for the last few games. When I go to the plate, I don't think about numbers, I just want to have good productive at-bats and if I do that, I'm on my way." Ramon Vazquez added a three-run double to complete his three-hit night. The Rangers had 18 hits in all after managing just two infield singles in the final 12 innings of Friday's 4-3 loss in 14 innings. Ian Kinsler served notice that this night might be different when he led off the first with his 11th home run of the season on a fly ball that just eluded left-fielder Wily Mo Pena at the top of the wall. It's the third time Kinsler has led off the game with a home run this season. "I'll definitely take it," Kinsler said. "I haven't been too good in my first at-bat the last week and a half and I just wanted to get us off to a hot start. We definitely struggled in the final innings the night before and I wanted to get something going." The Rangers led 4-0 in the fourth. Gabbard retired nine of the first 11 batters he faced, but then allowed seven of the next 13 batters to reach base. The Nationals scored two in the fourth, one in the fifth and then started the sixth with a single by Dmitri Young and a Ronnie Belliard walk. Gabbard then struck out Jose Lopez, but Washington went to the mound and signaled for Francisco. "They had some guys coming up who could cause some problems and I wanted to get somebody out there who had some power," Washington said. The manager did not get immediate satisfaction as Paul LoDuca singled to center off Francisco. But, the Nationals elected not to run on Josh Hamilton's arm and Francisco still had a chance to keep the Rangers ahead. "I just wanted to get ahead in the count," Francisco said. "Get a ground ball, a short fly ball or a strikeout. I didn't want to throw anything that was right there. I wanted to throw my best pitches." Francisco got the short fly ball. Pena hit a popup to center that kept Young pinned to third, bringing up pinch-hitter Kory Casto for the at-bat of the night. Francisco fell behind 2-0, came back with two strikes and then fired four straight fastballs at 97-98 mph that Casto fouled off. Francisco missed with a changeup that ran the count full, putting him at risk of forcing home the tying run. "I kept after it with my best stuff," Francisco said. "I was hitting my spots. He put up a good fight ... but tonight I had really good command. I was confident I could hit my spots with my fastball." Francisco came back with one more 98-mph fastball and Casto hit a soft liner out to shortstop that Young squeezed to end the inning. "That was huge," Young said. One tough situation, two big outs. The Rangers used it for a springboard and now they are back to .500 again.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.