Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish are scheduled to start the next two games for the Texas Rangers, after some extra rest for the aces lined up to start the team's first two playoff games.
With more than a week left in the regular season and the Rangers on the verge of clinching their second consecutive AL West title, there is also the opportunity for Hamels and Darvish to get back on track before the postseason after some subpar outings this month.
"It would be nice for them to go out, throw the ball well and have some success," said manager Jeff Banister, while re-emphasizing that he still sees them as among the best pitchers in the game.
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"There would be a lot of `feel good.' What's necessary is for all our guys to get on that roll, quality pitches, manage the game and go as deep as possible," he said. "There is a lot of `feel good' satisfaction in that. If everything is in place, you are mentally stronger and relax."
All-Star lefty Hamels (14-5, 3.42 ERA) has a 10.50 ERA over his last four starts, though the Rangers have won three of those games.
Darvish (5-5, 3.81), who has made only 15 starts this season after missing all of 2015 following Tommy John surgery, allowed a career high-matching seven runs last Saturday against Oakland. He has a 7.47 ERA in his three September games, and is 1-2 with a 6.04 ERA his last five starts.
"Their names are recognizable because of the work that they've done," said reliever Jake Diekman, part of the trade that brought Hamels from Philadelphia in a July 2015 trade. "You're going to have peaks and valleys, but those guys are that good because they're good at not having it go farther than one or two starts. Both of them could throw nine-inning shutouts next start."
The Rangers went into their off day Thursday with nine games remaining and a magic number of two to repeat as division champions. Second-place Houston opened a four-game series at home against Angels on Thursday night, and the second game of that series will be underway before Hamels throws the first pitch against the A's on Friday.
Hamels and Darvish both also had extended rest before their last starts, and each likely will get one more start at home before the playoffs.
By time Hamels takes the mound Friday night for the series opener at Oakland, seven days after the 2008 World Series MVP's last start, the Rangers (90-63) could be in position to clinch their seventh division title .
On the final day of the regular season last year, Hamels threw a three-hit complete game in a 9-2 win against the Los Angeles Angels to finally wrap up the division.
Darvish is set to pitch Saturday, a week after struggling against the A's at home in an outing when, without elaborating, he said he tried to tweak some mechanics in the bullpen before the game.
"That stuff that I tried ... it didn't work out. It was hard to do on the game mound, so I'm probably going to try to be more close to where I was before," Darvish said through his interpreter this week. "I'm always trying to improve, I'm trying to find something better for me to work."
Since coming to Texas from Japan before the 2012 season, Darvish has made only postseason start for the Rangers. That was in the AL wild-card game at the end of his first season, when he allowed three runs over 6 2-3 innings in a loss to Baltimore.
"Right now, I don't want to put too much pressure on myself thinking about playoffs," Darvish said. "Coming off the Tommy John surgery, I just need to take care of myself and my focus is one outing at a time. That's what I'm going to do."