The Texas Rangers will count on one of their top arms as they try to win their series against the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Texas scored four runs in the third inning and the bullpen spun 3 2/3 innings of one-hit, scoreless ball in a 4-3 victory on Friday.
The Rangers (63-81) will turn to Jon Gray (7-6, 3.79 ERA) to start the middle contest of the three-game series.
Gray is 6-5 with a 3.28 ERA in 85 innings over his past 15 starts dating back to May 21 against the Houston Astros.
Against the Miami Marlins on Monday in Game 2 of a doubleheader, Gray made his first start in nearly six weeks after being sidelined with a left oblique strain.
Expected to toss between 50 and 55 pitches, Gray offered up 45 — including an amazing 18 consecutive strikes and 22 of 24 at one point.
“Throwing strikes has kind of been the thing that’s been bugging me,” Gray said. “I wanted to be in the zone more.”
Rangers interim manager Tony Beasley said having Gray back in the rotation with All-Star Martin Perez is key to the team’s success.
“He and Martin are our stabilizers,” Beasley said. “To get him back is important. To have two guys you really feel good about and trust when they get out there.”
In his only career appearance against the Rays on June 1, Gray struck out 12 in seven innings in a 4-3 defeat in 11 innings. He allowed one run — a solo homer by Randy Arozarena — and three hits in the no-decision.
The series-opening defeat was a difficult one for the Rays (80-64), who have largely struggled at the plate over the past week and a half — save for an 11-run outburst on Thursday.
The club managed 10 hits — nine against All-Star Martin Perez — but could not manage to string together hits that would have given them the lead in the sixth inning.
“We’re a better offense than we’ve shown of late,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said. “In the last week or so, we’re just not in sync. When you get those guys on base, we’ve got to do whatever we can to add a few more runs for our pitching staff.”
Meanwhile, Texas’ four runs were produced via five straight hits, the most thunderous being former Rays player Nathaniel Lowe’s career-high 25th home run in the third inning.
The two-run, 403-foot shot to left-center field gave the Rangers a 4-2 lead.
“He’s a good hitter, and he can beat you certainly to the opposite field,” Cash said. “We’ve known that for quite some time, and he just drove it out of the park.”
Reliever Shawn Armstrong (2-2, 4.70) will make his 38th appearance but just his third start for Tampa Bay on Saturday.
The right-hander is 1-0 with a 1.00 ERA in 10 career relief appearances against Texas.
–Field Level Media