Rangers Pitchers Start Strong

Kevin Millwood has pitched at least seven innings every time he has taken the mound. Vicente Padilla just became the first Texas pitcher to allow one hit in consecutive starts. Matt Harrison has tossed 19 scoreless innings his last three games.

Call it the Nolan Ryan effect on the slugging Texas Rangers.

The Rangers are still bashing the ball - 53 homers already in 31 games and on pace this season to break the major league record.

The difference so far this year is that the Rangers (17-14) are pitching pretty well too after an offseason when Ryan, the team president and Hall of Fame pitcher known for his unmatched work ethic during his record 27 major league seasons, emphasized harder workouts.

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A primary goal of the extra offseason work, which included throwing live batting practice this spring, was for starters to go deeper into games with less regard for pitch counts.

"It's paying off," Millwood said. "I didn't think there'd be any problems handling it and so far there hasn't been."

Texas had the most overworked bullpen in the majors the past two seasons. That has changed this year.

Rangers starters have thrown 188 1-3 innings - an average of about 6 1-3 a game, a full inning more than last season. Their total is fifth in the American League, 14 innings above the major league average for teams so far.

"The conditioning over the winter ... the mindset of the guys that have to go through it, that's what's paying off," manager Ron Washington said. "You can always set up the program, but the programs have to buy into the program for it to work. They are making it work by going out there and making pitches."

Millwood and Toronto's Roy Halladay have both gone at least seven innings in all seven of their starts this season. No other pitcher in the majors made it past their third start without an earlier exit.

The 34-year-old Millwood (3-3, 2.92 ERA) has thrown at least 111 pitches in all but one start, a victory at Seattle when he needed only 87 pitches into the eighth. Texas has scored only twice in two of his losses and he threw a complete game in a 2-0 loss to Kansas City and Zack Grienke.

"I think Milly said it perfectly, he's out there pitching, not thinking," catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said recently. "He's just going out there throwing the ball. I think that's what a lot of guys are doing."

That's what Harrison said after his four-hit shutout over the Chicago White Sox on Friday night. Five days earlier he needed 100 pitches to get through five scoreless innings, though he was pleading to go back out after escaping a bases-loaded jam on his final pitch.

Washington said as long as starters are making pitches, he and new pitching coach Mike Maddux aren't too worried about pitch counts.

"We're paying attention to the results of the opposing bats and how loud the noise is," Washington said. "There's a limit we're not going to go past, but if they just finished 110 (pitches) in the sixth inning and they are still effective, then we are going to send them back out there in the seventh. But we are going to have somebody available just in case."

Millwood is in the fourth year of a five-year deal in which next season and the final $12 million will be guaranteed only if he throws 180 innings this season. He had never gone at least seven innings in more than four consecutive starts for Texas before his current streak.

Brandon McCarthy (3-1) likes the new philosophy "1,000 times better" than relying so heavily on pitch counts.

"It makes more sense," McCarthy said. "The starter is supposed to take you as deep in the game as he can. If you're pulling him 15 pitches, 20 pitches, an inning or two short of where he could go, you're doing a disservice."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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