Dustin Nippert is making a habit of rescuing the Rangers.
The unheralded Nippert was forced into action when Rangers starter Kevin Millwood left after two innings with tightness in his left gluteus. He gave up a run in the seventh on Alex Gordon's single, the only hit he allowed. Nippert (3-0) walked two, hit a batter and struck out one in 4 2-3 innings.
Nippert (3-0) walked two, hit a batter and struck out one in 4 2-3 innings.
"Nip saved us again," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "He gave us 5 2-3 innings one day and came out there today and almost duplicates it. We needed him. He pounded the strike zone, kept them off balance and really did a great job."
Nippert filled in for starter Vicente Padilla, who was diagnosed as having the swine flu, and beat the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday.
"A pretty good week, I guess," Nippert said. "It almost felt like a start. I wasn't really expecting Milly to come out. Then Hawk (bullpen coach Andy Hawkins) told me to start stretching in the second, that something might be wrong with him. He couldn't go. It was kind of quick.
"I really don't have a role -- starting, relieving or wherever they want me. If they got a spot for me, I'm glad to do it. Just give me a call."
Nippert retired the first 11 batters he faced, mixing speeds with an effective changeup.
The game was scoreless until the seventh, when Royals second baseman Alberto Callaspo dropped Ian Kinsler's pop up with two outs, allowing Nelson Cruz to score. Michael Young and Marlon Byrd contributed run-producing singles after that.
"We caught a break with the dropped pop fly," Washington said. "From that point on, we played the game we like to play. We stole some bases, put the ball in play, made some good things happen. Things just opened up right there in the seventh and eighth and we took advantage of it."
Millwood threw one warmup pitch in the third and was replaced by Nippert. He said it the injury happened on the last pitch to John Buck in the second inning and bothered him throughout Alex Gordon's bat to end the second.
"I just wasn't able to go long," Millwood said. "I couldn't get out on my front leg. It's just one of those weird things. I'll probably know a lot more tomorrow."
Ron Mahay (1-1), the first of four relievers, faced two batters and gave up two hits to take the loss for the Royals. They've lost 11 of 12 overall and went 1-8 on the homestand.
"We had more trouble out of the bullpen," Royals manager Trey Hillman said. "That always takes emotion out of you when you give up three unearned runs in one inning. That happens regardless on how you're going, but it's even more so when you've only got a couple of hits on the board and you're having a miserable time offensively."
Kansas City starter Sidney Ponson pitched six scoreless innings, lowering his ERA from 7.63 to 6.79. He held the Rangers to five hits while striking out four and walking three.
"He got us beyond what I thought he would have gotten us," Hillman said.
Ponson was pulled after 102 pitches, only 57 for strikes.
"I would have liked to go one more inning or two," Ponson said. "I don't make my pitches the way I wanted to. I didn't miss over the plate."
The Rangers led 3-1 going into the eighth, but scored four runs on three hits, including Andruw Jones' 15th home run. The inning also included RBI singles by Michael Young and Kinsler, while another run scored on David Murphy's ground out.
In his past four outings, Cruz has allowed 10 hits and 12 runs, 11 earned, in 1 2-3 innings.
Miguel Olivo's two-out single in the second off Millwood was the only hit the Royals had before Gordon's single in the seventh drove in Mark Teahen. Nippert retired the first 11 batters he faced. Buck's single in the ninth scored Callaspo with the final run.
NOTES: Washington held Rangers CF Josh Hamilton, who is 0 for 7 with five strikeouts in the series, out of the starting lineup. ... Royals RHP Kyle Farnsworth, who is on the disabled list with a right groin strain, threw a bullpen session Sunday and is scheduled to begin a minor-league rehab assignment Tuesday with Triple-A Omaha.