via Texas Rangers
ARLINGTON — Rangers manager Jeff Banister was saying it all spring while everybody else was wondering who would be the closer.
Banister kept emphasizing the goal was to have a complete bullpen, not just one guy who could shut it down in the ninth. The Rangers’ 5-1 victory over the Astros on Friday night emphatically proved the manager’s point.
Right-hander Keone Kela handled the ninth with little trouble, but it turned out not to be a save situation because of the sixth-inning work of Chris Martin and Alex Claudio.
They recorded the two biggest outs of the night as the Rangers earned their first win and broke a five-game losing streak to the Astros going back to last year. Doug Fister earned the win by holding the Astros to one run in five innings with the bullpen making it stand.
“As as a starter you never take the pressure off yourself,” Fister said. “But it is reassuring when our work is done, we have a tremendous bullpen that is going to come in behind us.”
That was the plan going into the game.
“If we got the lead and Fister was good through five and got to that third time through the lineup, we would probably go to the bullpen at that point,” Banister said. “We feel comfortable in that situation. We are going in with a little more solid plan and better feel of who our guys are.”
Martin took over in the sixth, and Jose Altuve led off with a single to right that Nomar Mazara trapped with his glove. That call stood up after a Rangers challenge. Martin struck out Carlos Correa, but the Rangers misplayed Alex Bregman’s grounder up the middle as second baseman Rougned Odor’s wild throw into the dugout left runners at second and third.
Martin again had to wait for an umpire’s review to place the runners. Once he was able to resume, Martin walked Marwin Gonzalez but struck out Evan Gattis for the second out of the inning.
“Tough conditions, had to endure two replays,” Banister said. “Stood out there and maintained his composure. Got a big strikeout.”
Banister then brought in Claudio, his soft-tossing left-hander. Banister might trust Claudio more than any reliever with runners on base, and his confidence was reinforced again.
The Astros had Derek Fisher up and manager AJ Hinch countered with right-handed-hitting J.D. Davis. Claudio struck him out on an 85-mph sinker.
“It was a messy inning,” Hinch said. “The way the inning went, it ended up dragging on a little bit and we ended up losing out on the good at-bats, and they’re pitching came in and did a pretty good job ending the inning.”
Claudio set down the side in order in the seventh, Kevin Jepsen pitched a scoreless eighth and Kela finished up. The Rangers were outscored 228-152 combined in the sixth and seventh innings last year. That’s why Banister has put so much emphasis on having a complete bullpen.
“It’s early, but we’re cautiously optimistic in a sense that we felt this was a group of guys who could string some scoreless innings together,” Banister said.