Hunter first Texas starter to begin year 7-0
Trio of homers, great defense help Rangers stay red-hot
DETROIT -- Tommy Hunter has the slowest fastball of any pitcher in the Rangers' rotation. He's also undefeated and has the lowest ERA of any pitcher in the rotation.There are people who are obsessed with radar guns as the ultimate measure of pitching ability, but Hunter is living proof that throwing strikes, changing speeds and making opponents put the ball in play is more than just Spring Training chalk talk. Hunter lives it and breathes it, his defense rewards him for it, and on Tuesday night, that combination carried the Rangers to an 8-0 victory over the Tigers at Comerica Park. Hunter is now 7-0 with a 2.09 ERA after nine starts, making him the first Texas starter in franchise history to win his first seven decisions. "Tommy has been terrific," Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus said. "He's been great. He goes out there and fights every inning. That's what makes him so special." Andrus and second baseman Ian Kinsler made the defense special with some terrific defensive plays behind Hunter. The night began with Andrus and Kinsler turning a tough double play in the first inning and ended with an around-the-horn double play started by third baseman Michael Young in the ninth. In between, Andrus and Kinsler each contributed at least one play worthy of late-night highlight review. "Those guys played awesome behind me," Hunter said. "I can't say enough what Elvis did during the game or what Ian did in the game. They have been great all year. I'm not a strikeout guy. I'm just a guy who goes after hitters and hope they hit it at someone. "Sometimes they don't hit it at anybody and we still make the plays." Hunter went seven innings before Darren Oliver and Doug Mathis finished up, and the Rangers have now won five of six games since the All-Star break. They maintained their five-game lead over the Angels -- who beat the Yankees, 10-2 -- in the American League West. "We played as clean of a game as you possibly could play tonight," manager Ron Washington said. "It was needed." The Rangers have won two straight in Comerica Park after losing their previous 11 here, but that losing streak is hardly relevant. "I mean, [they are] a real good team," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "That's why they're leading the division. They've got a good team. They're well-equipped in the bullpen now with some big arms and a veteran like Oliver down there who knows what he's doing and probably steadies them some. They have some speed [in the lineup] up top. They've got Michael Young, one of the more professional hitters in all of baseball. They're good." The Rangers really needed a deep start from Hunter, because their bullpen had thrown nine innings the night before in a 14-inning, 8-6 win over the Tigers. He responded by going seven innings and holding Detroit to three singles and two walks while striking out three. Texas gave him a 2-0 lead in the first when Andrus singled and scored on a triple by Kinsler, who now has a 13-game hitting streak. Josh Hamilton's sacrifice fly brought home Kinsler, and David Murphy made it 3-0 in the second with a mammoth home run to deep center field. The Rangers wouldn't need any more than that, but Nelson Cruz had an RBI in the sixth and then they added four more in the ninth on a squeeze bunt by Andrus plus home runs from Kinsler and Hamilton. "I knew I had to go deep in the game," Hunter said. "I had a rough sixth and seventh inning, throwing a lot of pitches. I was hoping to keep going, but I lost command in the seventh inning and they saw that from the side." Hunter was leading, 4-0, in the seventh, but Miguel Cabrera lined a one-out double and Brennan Boesch drew a walk. It was the only time all night that Hunter allowed two baserunners in one inning. Ryan Raburn followed with a hard grounder to the left-side hole and Andrus made an all-out diving stop, then threw from his knees to get the out at second. "We were playing to make sure we get one out," Andrus said. "That guy pulls the ball a lot, so I was ready for that. Any ground ball, I was going to be ready, and I was able to reach that ball and get it to second." Kinsler then snagged a line drive from Alex Avila to end the Tigers' one budding threat on the evening. "We made some plays that kept them from getting something going," Washington said. "That's not an easy thing to do against that team. Tommy gave us a well-pitched job and the guys played well behind him."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.