Commentary

Rangers will need more from big bats

Help is on the way, but current Texas lineup needs to complement starting pitching

Updated: May 22, 2011, 8:26 AM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

PHILADELPHIA -- The Texas Rangers entered this three-game interleague series against the Philadelphia Phillies with the understanding that their hitters are struggling as they face some of the best pitchers in the game.

Yet with the type of lineup manager Ron Washington uses each night, there is some confidence.

Saturday night, Cliff Lee, the former Rangers ace, dominated his former club. He struck out 10 over eight innings. He allowed no runs while allowing just five hits over 122 pitches in a 2-0 victory.

[+] EnlargeCliff Lee
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesThe Phillies' Cliff Lee blanked his former Rangers teammates for his first win since April 14.
"I don't know if it was special," Washington said of Lee's outing. "We made him work. We just couldn't get [anything] out of him. It's like Roy [Halladay] yesterday, they do a good job of keeping people from getting to third base and we just couldn't get anybody on base and get anything going. And when we did, [Lee] found a way to make pitches and get out of it."

Washington meant no disrespect toward Lee, who helped the Rangers reach the World Series for the first time in the franchise's history last year. It's just that he expects more out of his lineup.

Sure, Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz are out probably until Monday as they recover from injuries, but there's still Michael Young, Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus hanging around.

In the two games here, Beltre is just 2-8 with two strikeouts and Andrus is 2-7 with two strikeouts. Young is 3-8, but those hits came Saturday night. Kinsler ended an 0-18 slide with a two-out single in the sixth inning.

The Rangers need more from them.

"If we're winning 1-0, it doesn't matter if we hit or not," Beltre said. "You just want to win. The result is not where we want. Of course we want to do better than what we're doing right now. The pitching staff has been good the last couple of weeks, but the offense is not picking it up."

Colby Lewis pitched a fine game for the Rangers. You could say he matched Lee almost pitch for pitch. He gave up just two runs -- a home run by Ryan Howard which ended his 0-23 slide, and a hard-hit RBI single from John Mayberry Jr. past a diving Beltre.

Two runs for Lee seems to be enough, but when you check out how he's done the last few starts, the Rangers should have done better.

Lee won his first game since April 14, when he beat the Washington Nationals 4-0. After that, he endured three no decisions and three losses. On May 16, his last start prior to the Rangers game, Lee walked a season-high six batters, and while he pitched into the seventh in that game he gave up three runs as his offense failed him in a 3-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.

So Lee was determined to take out the Rangers in a game he said was just a normal contest. He sure didn't pitch like it. Or hit like it. He singled against Lewis in the fifth and even stole second base. Then in the seventh, he almost beat out a routine ground ball to short.

When Lee's night was over, the 45,604 in attendance gave him a loud ovation.

"It's a little different when you're pitching to guys you had just played with," Lee said. "It was a little different, but not something off-the-charts different. It was still an opposing team I know is a very good offense. I know if I make too many mistakes they can make me pay, so I tried to focus on locating pitches."

Things will get better for the Rangers, or so they hope. Hamilton and Cruz, the two sluggers, should take some pressure off Beltre.

Young is doing his thing as usual. Kinsler's slump will subside at some point, and Andrus is scrappy. When the two big men return the Rangers should be fine.

Without them, going against pitchers like Lee makes things harder.

"Of course we miss Hamilton and we miss Cruz," Washington said. "We miss [injured reliever Darren] O'Day and we miss [starter] Tommy Hunter. Once again I asked, could we stop the schedule?"

They can't do that. All the Rangers can do is wait on their top sluggers to return because this season isn't getting away from them. It's just starting.

Calvin Watkins is a reporter for ESPNDallas.com.

Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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