05/27/08 12:06 AM ET
Ranger bats silenced vs. Rays
Tampa Bay ace keeps Texas offense guessing
By Brittany Ghiroli / MLB.com
That's how most of Monday night went at the plate for the Rangers, as the club's bats hit a roadblock that is becoming increasingly dangerous throughout the American League.
Warning: Rays Starting Pitching At Work.
Texas found itself just the latest victim of one of the Major Leagues' lowest home ERAs, as it was dealt a Memorial Day defeat at Tropicana Field, falling to Tampa Bay, 7-3.
Starter Scott Kazmir kept the Rangers guessing, striking out 10 batters -- including seven of the first nine faced -- while holding the squad to three hits and one run over seven innings.
The Rangers, who entered the series with an AL-leading 61 home runs, never came close to going yard on Kazmir. Michael Young, Josh Hamilton and Milton Bradley were all hitless on the night, and a combined 0-for-9 off the southpaw.
"That's what good pitchers do," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "Good pitchers stop good hitting, and he certainly stopped us tonight."
Hamilton, who entered the game ranked among the league leaders in virtually every offensive category, was 0-for-4 with a strikeout in his first appearance vs. the Rays, who kept the outfielder in their farm system for parts of six years.
"He shut our whole lineup down," Washington said. "You can't just say that Hamilton was nervous. That guy pitched pretty good. He could shut anybody down the way he pitched tonight."
Hamilton could have seen it coming. The center fielder saw Kazmir in the weight room before the game and asked how the southpaw was feeling. "He said he was feeling pretty good, pretty strong," Hamilton recalled.
Kazmir's ERA is now 0.69 in his last four starts. The southpaw held the Rangers to a season-low three hits and the club's 12 strikeouts (10 from Kazmir) matches a season high for a nine-inning game.
The closest the Rangers came to altering the ace's game plan came from back-to-back hits in the sixth inning, followed by an Ian Kinsler sacrifice fly. But the one-out rally was quickly stifled when Ramon Vazquez was gunned out at third, and Young flied out to end the inning.
Still, there was hope. The upside of Kazmir's frequent fanning was his high pitch count, and the Rangers clung to the belief that the ace's deep counts could sap his strength and force an early exit.
But the night belonged to the 24-year-old hurler, who conserved enough pitches to last through the seventh inning, snatching the Rangers' shot to eclipse the .500 mark. The club hasn't had a winning record since April 10, and although it has hovered around .500 several times, it has been unable to grab the extra W's.
"Tonight I can tell you it was Scott Kazmir," Washington said. "That's all I can say about it tonight."
As for the other fateful games? Texas has sported matching 22s, 25s and 26s in the record columns, but has been unable to get back a winning record, with several hard-luck losses.
Monday night, Kazmir was stoic -- tossing 69 of his 95 pitches for strikes -- and not issuing a single walk. While the Rangers lineup often resembled dominoes, containing the Rays was a much harder job.
Coming off a complete-game appearance, Sidney Ponson struggled mightily, allowing a season-high 12 hits in a season-low five innings.
"It's one of those days, they were hitting the ball, finding holes," Ponson said. "The worst pitch of the day was the three-run home run [to Eric Hinske]. Put the team in a big hole early and we didn't get out of it."
The club did generate two runs off Gary Glover, thanks to a knock from Kinsler -- who had all three Rangers RBIs. But the club's late efforts were overmatched by a Rays squad that had 16 hits and left 15 men on base.
"I was missing off the plate," Ponson said. "I was trying to make adjustments, I didn't do it ... it just didn't go my way tonight."
It didn't go anyone's way on Memorial Day for the club in the red, white and blue.
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.