Rangers-Astros Preview

The Associated Press

Even when there is an occasional hiccup for the two-time reigning AL champion Texas, someone always seems ready to pick up the slack.

Manager Ron Washington is hoping a well-rested Derek Holland can give an overworked bullpen a well-deserved break Saturday night as the Rangers continue their interleague series versus their intrastate rivals, the Houston Astros.

While Josh Hamilton's hitting prowess has captivated the nation, Texas (25-15) also has been able to grab an early lead in the AL West with the help of a solid relief corps, which has posted a 1.91 ERA on the road. That quality was evident again Friday, when three relievers picked up erratic former closer Neftali Feliz with 4 1-3 innings of one-hit ball in a 4-1 victory to open the series.

Joe Nathan, acquired in the offseason as part of the process to move Feliz into the rotation, made an appearance for the fourth straight day and pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his ninth save.

''Showed me the professional he is, showed me the great teammate that he is, showed me that he will do whatever he has to do to make things happen for his team,'' Washington said. ''We certainly appreciate what he's done because we called on him way beyond his duty the past few days.''

While Washington has already ruled Nathan - who pitched four straight days for the first time since 2099 - out for this game, he has plenty of options as five other relievers have an ERA of 2.70 or better. Koji Uehara pitched a scoreless eighth Friday to knock his ERA down to 1.40 and has not been scored upon in his last 10 outings.

Holland (3-2, 3.78 ERA) now gets the ball and should be primed for a deep run. The left-hander had his turn skipped in the rotation earlier this month as Washington has tried to deftly navigate his team's 20-game stretch in 20 days by giving players days off, and Holland's lone appearance since May 10 was a nine-pitch scoreless inning Monday against Kansas City.

"I definitely feel good... more comfortable," said Holland, who has allowed one earned run in 14 1-3 innings over his last three outings, to the team's official website. "I have been executing my pitches a lot better lately and being more consistent."

Holland was one of the contributors to the Rangers keeping the Silver Boot last year, giving up three runs and six hits in 7 1-3 innings of an 8-3 win June 20. It is his only decision in two lifetime starts versus Houston.

Friday's loss marked the return of offensive struggles for the Astros (17-22), who were held to three or fewer runs for the 10th time in 12 games. They left eight runners on base - all in the first five innings - and went 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position after going 6 for 21 in sweeping their two-game set from Milwaukee prior to this series.

''We had guys on base, but when you play teams like this you have to get that big hit,'' Chris Johnson said. ''You have to get some runs across. One run isn't going to cut it.''

Lucas Harrell (2-3, 4.40) is trying to avoid dropping consecutive starts and also hoping for some run support as he takes the mound for Houston. The right-hander allowed three runs in 5 2-3 innings Monday at Philadelphia, where his offense provided no support for him in a 5-1 defeat.

Harrell, who will be making his first appearance against the Rangers, has gotten 11 runs in his two victories and seven in his other six starts this season.

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