05/01/10 2:44 PM ET
Rangers finish April in thick of AL West race
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
But they woke up on Saturday morning just a half-game out of first place in the tightest race in the Major Leagues. Entering May, the Angels and the Athletics were tied for first place in the AL West at 12-12, while the Rangers and the Mariners were 11-12.
"You can look at it in different ways," third baseman Michael Young said. "Right now, Seattle is excited to get Cliff Lee back, so they're getting better. Anaheim hasn't hit [its] stride yet, but they'll be fine. Everybody knows what they can do. Oakland is going to be in it all year because of their great young pitching, and we're just trying to get our lineup back to full strength.
"If you ask the players, we all expected four good teams, and that's what we've seen so far. We have four good teams getting after it. I haven't seen anything shocking at all."
The Rangers finished April hitting .240 as a team. That's their fifth lowest batting average for the month of April in the last 30 years. But their team ERA of 3.69 is also their fifth lowest in the last 30 years too.
The Rangers' 11-12 record marked their fourth straight season with a losing record in April. But this is the closest they've been to first place at the end of April in that time. They were 2 1/2 games out of first at the end of April last season, 7 1/2 games back in 2008 and 4 1/2 games back in 2007.
"I think this division is the best and the deepest it's been since I've been here," outfielder David Murphy said. "I don't think Anaheim is the same team it's been the last few years, but you have to respect them. They are still a good team, and they know how to win.
"If there is any team that's a question mark, it's Oakland because they're so young. But you can't question their talent. Seattle has Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez at the top of their rotation, so you know they're going to be tough. They're having a tough time scoring runs, but everybody has yet to play their best baseball."
Francisco once again showing closer's mettle
SEATTLE -- Rangers reliever Frank Francisco picked up his third win on Friday night, making him only the fourth reliever in club history with three wins in April. Only three other relievers in the Majors had three victories in April: Phil Coke, Casey Janssen and Brandon League.
More important than wins, though, the Rangers are convinced that Francisco is over his early season problems and is once again ready to pitch with the game on the line. That could eventually mean returning to his job as closer.
"He's throwing the ball very well," pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "His mechanics are straightened out. He's throwing downhill rather than his backside collapsing and getting under the ball. He's picked up his velocity, and his command has returned."
The Rangers are still using Neftali Feliz as their closer, and he retired the side in order in the 12th to preserve Friday's 2-0 victory. But the Rangers are seeing enough from Francisco to convince them that he could be their closer again, if Feliz should falter. Feliz has still allowed six runs on 10 hits in his last five games.
"It won't be long before Frankie gets more closing opportunities," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "I don't know when but I do know how important he is for us to have success. If Feliz gets on a big-time role, I'm not going to change it. When does Frankie get chance to close? I don't know yet. But he'll get his chances. I know we can't get it done without him."
Guerrero shows he still has it in right field
SEATTLE -- The best defensive play of Friday's game was made by right fielder Vladimir Guerrero. Mariners catcher Adam Moore led off the bottom of the fifth with a high fly ball deep into the right-field corner, and Guerrero raced over to make a nice running, waist-high catch as he crossed the foul line up against the wall.
It was Guerrero's second start in right field, matching his total for 2009. But he'll surpass that on Monday. Manager Ron Washington is planning on starting him in right against Oakland left-hander Dallas Braden, so that right-hander Ryan Garko can get into the lineup as the designated hitter.
With Nelson Cruz out, the Rangers are trying to get as many right-handed hitters into the lineup with left-handers on the mound. The Rangers went into Saturday's game with a .284 on-base percentage against left-handed pitchers, the second lowest in the American League. Their .215 batting average was the third lowest, and their slugging percentage was the fourth lowest.
Of course, the Rangers aren't killing right-handed pitchers either. They went into Saturday's game hitting .254 against right-handers with a .329 on-base percentage and a .398 slugging percentage. All were the sixth lowest in the American League.
Treanor gets short turnaround at catcher
SEATTLE -- Matt Treanor was back behind the plate on Saturday after catching all 12 innings in the Rangers' 2-0 victory over the Mariners on Friday night. Manager Ron Washington said that he wanted an experienced catcher behind the plate with Matt Harrison on the mound.
"I just wanted the veteran to help Matt get through this," Washington said.
Washington said that Max Ramirez will start on Sunday with C.J. Wilson on the mound.
"C.J. calls his own game anyway," Washington said.
Friday night was the seventh time in club history the Rangers have had a shutout victory in 12 innings or more. It was the first since a 1-0 victory in 13 innings over the White Sox on Aug. 17, 1990. The longest was a 14-inning 1-0 victory over the Red Sox on April 17, 1983. ... Ron Washington on Ian Kinsler's first game back from the disabled list: "He looked good. I didn't see a whole lot of rust. I think you'll see more rust at the plate than in the field. He hasn't seen pitches, not this type of pitching. He saw a lot of pitches in the Minors but not this quality. But it's not going to faze Kins. He's up to the challenge." ... Colby Lewis, going into Saturday's game, leads the American League with 38 strikeouts. Tim Lincecum of the Giants leads the Majors with 43. Lewis is tied with Dan Haren of the D-backs for second.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.