ARLINGTON, TX - JULY 22: Dustin Nippert #57 of the Texas Rangers pitches against the Boston Red Sox during the game at Rangers Ballpark July 22, 2009 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Dustin Nippert
Aaron Laffey has found his comfort zone -- Progressive Field.
"Aaron set the tone," manager Eric Wedge said. "He was consistent from inning to inning, aggressive and efficient."
Laffey (6-3) allowed six hits and three walks in 6 2-3 innings. He did not allow an earned run for the third time in four starts since July 24 and moved to 4-0 with a 1.59 ERA in five home starts this season.
"Coming out of the bullpen, I said to Shoppy (catcher Kelly Shoppach), 'It feels like I just pitched yesterday,"' Laffey said. "It's good to stay in rhythm."
In his outing six days earlier, Laffey gave up an unearned run in a career-high eight innings.
The resurgent Indians improved to 13-6 since losing 21 of 28 from June 15 to July 19. Texas came in tied with Boston for the wild card lead in the AL, but fell to 3-5 in August.
"Obviously, we're a completely different ballclub," Wedge said of the Indians, who dealt away several veterans for young, low-cost prospects just before the trading deadline. "But the kids are fun to watch, hungry and learning. They take pride in trying to win as many games as possible."
Dustin Nippert (3-1) struck out a career-high 10 over six innings for Texas -- a dominating performance except for the third inning, when Cleveland's first five batters scored.
"That third inning was a disaster, I guess," Nippert said. "I don't know what happened."
Grady Sizemore and Asdrubal Cabrera each singled and Shin-Soo Choo was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Jhonny Peralta drew a bases-loaded walk to make it 1-0, Travis Hafner had an RBI single, Luis Valbuena a two-run double and Trevor Crowe capped the rally with a sacrifice fly for a 5-0 lead.
"The walk to Peralta was big," Nippert said. "It was all downhill from there. I threw a lot of pitches. It felt like when I tried harder they hit harder."
Nippert threw 31 pitches in the third, then came back to strike out the side on 14 pitches in the fourth and work two more hitless innings.
"He showed something right there," Texas manager Ron Washington said. "He put three zeroes up there. It could have been worse."
Joe Smith gave up one hit over one inning and Tony Sipp retired all four batters he faced, three on strikeouts, to finish Cleveland's fifth shutout. Texas has been shut out six times.
Laffey was helped by several good defensive plays in the infield and a sliding catch by right fielder Choo that took a hit away from former Indians All-Star Omar Vizquel in the fifth.
Texas loaded the bases in the first with the help of two walks, but Laffey got Josh Hamilton to hit into an inning-ending double play.
"If I give up one or two runs there, it's all different," Laffey said. "To get a groundball there was huge. I actually missed my location, but he hit in on the ground. That's baseball. A few innings later, I threw a pitch a couple inches off the ground and (Hank) Blalock hit it for a triple."
In the seventh, Cabrera glided behind second base from his shortstop position to grab a sharp grounder and throw out Jarrod Saltalamacchia. On the next play, Cabrera ranged near the bag and threw out speedy Elvis Andrus. The throw was scooped out of the dirt by first baseman Andy Marte and Washington came out to protest that Andrus had beaten the throw.
The fielding gems were reminiscent of those made by Vizquel for 11 years through 2004 as a gold glove shortstop for the Indians. Vizquel played second base for the Rangers and got a standing ovation when he led off the game from Cleveland fans who fondly remember the 42-year-old. Vizquel went 2 for 4 and was also cheered on both of his singles.