Rays-Rangers Preview

The Associated Press

If his remarkable season debut is any indication, Alexi Ogando could be on the verge of a special year.

Jeremy Hellickson's first start, meanwhile, didn't go very well.

Ogando takes the hill opposite Hellickson as the Texas Rangers open a three-game set against the visiting Tampa Bay Rays on Monday night.

After going 13-8 with a 3.56 ERA over 29 starts in 2011, Ogando pitched primarily out of the bullpen last year. The Rangers, though, aren't likely to remove him from the rotation anytime soon following Wednesday's performance.

The right-hander struck out a career-high 10 over 6 1-3 innings of four-hit ball in a 4-0 win at Houston.

"He was outstanding," manager Ron Washington told the league's official website. "We were looking for him to build on his progress in spring training, and he did exactly what we needed him to do. He was outstanding.

"He used his changeup, moved the ball in and out and had a good breaking ball. He still didn't have (total) command of his fastball. He's usually able to do that up. But he'll start dotting it up before it's all over."

Ogando improved to 14-1 with a 2.22 ERA over 21 career starts when going at least six innings, and his expanded repertoire could make him all the more formidable going forward.

"Ogando is known for striking folks out," Washington added. "He had a good fastball, he has a tremendous slider and now he's got a changeup and a curveball to go with all of that."

After struggling in Wednesday's 8-7 walkoff win over Baltimore, Hellickson (0-0, 7.11) is hoping to come out with a better effort on his 26th birthday. The right-hander surrendered five runs and eight hits over 6 1-3 innings.

"I don't think we should be too excited with six innings," he said. "We should be going seven. We're getting enough pitches to do that and we just have to be efficient with them. We'd like to go more than that."

Hellickson could have a hard time getting on track against the Rangers (4-2), who hit three homers for the second consecutive game Sunday in a 7-3 victory over the Los Angeles Angels. Lance Berkman and David Murphy both went deep in the first inning and Ian Kinsler added some insurance with a three-run shot in the sixth.

Kinsler finished 3 for 3 with a career best-tying four RBIs and two runs scored. Berkman is batting .450 and has hit safely in all six contests.

The Rangers will look to stay hot against the Rays (3-3), who posted back-to-back wins over Cleveland before falling 13-0 in Sunday's series finale.

Tampa Bay entered that game averaging 5.0 runs but was limited to four singles and watched reigning AL Cy Young Award winner David Price get knocked around.

"Everything was going in our favor, we had the right guy pitching and it just did not want to work out," manager Joe Maddon said. "It is the beauty of our game. It's so unpredictable.

"It's unfortunate. We did win two out of three against this team and (are 3-3) overall. I can't be overly upset about that."

Hellickson is 0-2 with a 3.38 ERA in three career outings against the Rangers, including a loss in a 2011 AL division series.

Including the playoffs, Elvis Andrus has gone 0 for 8 against Hellickson. Adrian Beltre and Berkman, though, are a combined 5 for 8 with four homers.

In his only start against Tampa Bay, Ogando gave up three runs, five hits and two walks in 2 2-3 innings of a 4-1 home loss Aug. 31, 2011.

The Rays took five of nine from the Rangers last year.

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