The Texas Rangers came out of the weekend with high spirits after taking two of three from their closest pursuer in the AL West. The mood quickly changed with the discouraging news about one of their top sluggers.
In Tuesday night’s series opener against the Tampa Bay Rays, the first-place Rangers continue their chase for a second straight division title without Nelson Cruz(notes), who is expected to miss three weeks with a left hamstring injury.
Texas (76-59) extended its lead over second-place Los Angeles with Sunday’s 9-5 comeback win, but the victory may have come at a cost. Cruz injured his hamstring when running out a double in the sixth inning, and could be out until Sept. 20.
Cruz leads the Rangers with 28 homers and is second on the team with 84 RBIs. Texas is likely to be extra cautious considering the right fielder missed 51 games last season with issues in both hamstrings.
Although the Rangers’ division lead grew to 3 1/2 games with the Angels’ loss Monday, losing Cruz could harm their chances. On Tuesday, Texas called up outfielder Leonys Martin(notes), who defected from Cuba last year.
Martin, who signed 15.5 million, five-year contract in May, hit .295 in 73 games combined in Arizona, Double-A Frisco and Round Rock.
“We just need to keep grinding and playing baseball,” manager Ron Washington told the Rangers’ official website. “We just have to keep playing our best baseball every day right to the end.”
The 2010 AL MVP had a two-run homer Sunday before adding a tiebreaking RBI single in the seventh inning for the Rangers, who won for just the second time in six games. Texas is 13-4 when Hamilton homers.
“We feed off of Josh,” Washington said.
Hamilton didn’t have much luck in the Rangers’ first series against the Rays from May 30-June 1, going 2 for 13, but Texas still took two of three. This will be his first look at scheduled starter Jeremy Hellickson(notes) (11-9, 3.01 ERA), who has never faced the Rangers.
Hellickson gave up two runs and six hits while striking out seven in seven innings Thursday against Detroit, but was saddled with a 2-0 loss.
The rookie right-hander has looked sharp lately, posting a 2.14 ERA in his last five starts, but an inconsistent offense has left him with a 2-2 record. He has received 16 combined runs of support in the two victories but just one total run in the other three outings.
Three runs are typically all Hellickson needs. He is 11-0 with a 2.17 ERA in his 13 starts when his offense backs him with at least that much offense.
The Rays (73-60) are coming off Monday’s 7-3 loss to Toronto after scoring 24 runs in winning their previous three games. Tampa Bay, which lost for just the sixth time in 20 contests, fell 7 1/2 games behind New York in the AL wild card race.
Damon homered twice Monday, but is 2 for 12 with two singles against the Rangers this year. He is 2 for 9 - albeit with five walks - against Scott Feldman(notes) (0-0, 3.94), who is scheduled to make his first start of the year.
Feldman, a 17-game winner in 2009, spent the first half of the season recovering from offseason right knee surgery. He has made seven relief appearances since coming off the disabled list last month and is taking the rotation spot of Matt Harrison(notes), whose innings are being limited for the stretch run.
“I just need to go out there and pitch as well as I can,” Feldman told the Rangers’ official website.
He usually does just that against Tampa Bay.
In eight games - three starts - versus the Rays, Feldman is 3-1 with a 1.73 ERA, his lowest against any opponent he has faced more than once. He has limited Evan Longoria(notes), B.J. Upton(notes) and Ben Zobrist(notes) to two hits in 22 at-bats (.091).