Before Kason Gabbard hurt his back last month, he was one of the few bright spots on a struggling Texas pitching staff. Now, the Rangers are hoping the left-hander can help continue their May turnaround.
Gabbard comes off the disabled list to make his first start in nearly three weeks as the Rangers conclude a four-game set with the struggling Seattle Mariners on Thursday night.
Poor pitching was a major reason Texas (15-20) lost 18 of its first 27 games, posting a major league-worst 5.48 ERA during that span. Losing Gabbard (1-0, 2.18 ERA) to a sore back didn’t bode well for the Rangers’ chances of settling down on the mound.
Gabbard was clearly Texas’ best pitcher before he was injured in a loss to Boston on April 21. The left-hander has given up just five runs in 20 2-3 innings.
But the Rangers’ staff has improved significantly in May, recording a 2.21 ERA and a .203 opponents batting average to help Texas win five of seven games. Texas has held Seattle (14-21) to one run en route to winning the last two games of this series, including a 2-0 victory on Wednesday night.
Gabbard will now get a chance to keep the Rangers’ momentum going. He’ll take the mound after making one rehab start, giving up one run and one hit in four innings for Double-A Frisco.
“That sharp pain isn’t there anymore,” Gabbard told the Rangers’ official Web site. “There’s still a little stiffness in the morning when I wake up, but when I come to the ballpark and do all my work, it loosens up.”
Gabbard is 0-1 with a 5.59 ERA in two starts and one relief appearance against the Mariners. He’ll be facing a Seattle team that was held to a season-low two hits Wednesday as it was shut out for the second time.
The Mariners, losers of seven of eight, have hit .128 (10-for-78) over their last 23 innings and have just two hits in their last 16 opportunities with runners in scoring position.
“They’ll get a couple hits, then go three, four without doing something,” Seattle manager John McLaren said. “I don’t have to name names. They know who they are. I’m not trying to embarrass anybody. It’s just a matter of getting them going.”
Seattle’s Richie Sexson was a late scratch from the starting lineup because of personal issues, and his status for Thursday’s game is uncertain. The veteran first baseman is batting .209, but leads the Mariners with seven home runs.
Sexson is 1-for-11 in the last three starts made by Felix Hernandez (1-0, 3.04), who has gotten just five runs to work with in that span. The right-hander, though, has been terrible in his last two starts, posting a 7.11 ERA and losing both contests.
He gave up six runs and 12 hits in 5 2-3 innings as Seattle lost 6-1 to the New York Yankees on Saturday.
Hernandez’s first start of the season was against the Rangers on April 1, when he allowed one unearned run and five hits in seven innings as the Mariners lost 5-4. He is 4-4 with a 4.10 ERA in 11 starts against Texas.