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05/10/08 9:00 PM ET
Rangers pitchers key to winning streak
Staff took a 31-inning scoreless streak into Saturday's game
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- Pitching coach Mark Connor had a simple message for his pitching staff after it was battered during a seven-game losing streak in Boston and Detroit. Trust. "That's all I kept telling them," Connor said. "Trust yourself. They went through a rough stretch but I still wanting them trusting themselves and their ability." Apparently the Rangers took that advice to heart because after going 0-7 with a 10.17 in Detroit and Boston, they have won 10 of 14 with a 3.24 ERA going into Saturday's game with the Athletics. Suddenly, the pitching coach has been able to relax and enjoy life again. "Give them all the credit," Connor said. "It's been fun for me to watch. Give them all the credit because they are the ones that are going out and doing it." The Rangers also took a 31-inning scoreless streak into Saturday's game, after three straight shutouts against the Mariners and Athletics. The club record is 39 consecutive scoreless innings, set in 1981, and the Major League record is 56 set by the 1903 Pittsburgh Pirates. Rangers relievers also went into Saturday's game not having allowed a run in their last nine games and 27 innings. Both are the longest in club history. "We just have to build on it," Connor said. "We know we're not going to throw 100-something shutouts this season. But just go out there, trust your stuff, be competitive and don't give up. If you do that, good things will happen. It won't happen every time, but on most nights it will." The turnaround has given the pitching staff a rare semblance of stability with a rotation of Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, Sidney Ponson, Kason Gabbard and Scott Feldman. Luis Mendoza, who was the Rangers' fifth starter at the beginning of the season, is on the disabled list with a sore shoulder and threw 45 pitches in a simulated game on Saturday. He is scheduled to have a side session on Monday and then go pitch on medical rehab assignment in the Minor Leagues. The Rangers want him to pitch at least twice in the Minors. He could also make his next 20 starts down there. "That's fair to say," Connor said. Feldman, who has a 2.89 ERA in his first three starts, is the reason. The Rangers converted Feldman from reliever to starter at the end of Spring Training and were expecting him to need at least two months in the Minors to adapt. That hasn't been the case. The Rangers needed Feldman much faster than expected and he has responded beautifully. He has been a different pitcher ever since last September when Connor suggested he raise him arm angle from sidearm to three-quarters. Now his sinker has more bite, but he has also developed a cut fastball. Both pitches come in on the same level and at the same speed. But they both have late break in different directions. The cutter goes in on lefties while the sinker drops down and away on them. Toronto's Roy Halladay has the same style, although with a great breaking ball. Connor is trying to help Feldman with a breaking ball that will complement his repertoire. Ponson, who was signed as insurance in Spring Training, has also been huge, going 2-0 with a 1.33 ERA in his first three starts. He was once considered a stop-gap measure. Now, he is the No. 3 starter on a staff on a roll. "Right now our confidence is high," closer C.J. Wilson said. "The big thing has been getting good starting pitching, especially when Feldman and A.J. Murray gave us those two games in Oakland. That helps the bullpen a lot. Before that we had a stretch [in Boston and Detroit] where starters were going two or three innings. That overworked the bullpen and was hard to overcome." They have overcome a lot, but Connor doesn't want it to stop. He knows the Rangers can't pitch this well all season any more than they can be as bad as they were in Boston and Detroit. "It's about being somewhere in the middle and being consistent," Connor said. "There are going to be bumps in the road, all pitchers have them whether you're a 10-year veteran or have 40 days in the big leagues. But it's about consistency and trusting in yourself."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.