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Hunter silences Rays in first start of season

Hunter silences Rays in first start of season

ARLINGTON -- Rangers manager Ron Washington may have been on to something when he said he wasn't in any rush to get Derek Holland back into the rotation.

"There's no reason to," Washington said Friday. "We got Tommy Hunter." Hunter, who was recently called up from Triple-A Oklahoma City to replace the injured Holland, picked up a complete-game 6-1 win over the Rays at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on Saturday.

"The day belonged to Tommy Hunter," Washington said. "He came up and kept those guys off balance, kept them off the fat part of the bat and changed speeds very well."

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The Rays couldn't muster much against Hunter, picking up only one run on five hits. That lone run came in the second, when Sean Rodriguez connected on a two-out home run.

There wasn't anything that surprised Washington.

"The performance was exactly what we saw in the past," Washington said. "We didn't expect anything different."

Hunter's ability to keep the ball in play was the difference for the right-hander. He walked no one and induced 13 groundouts, something he gave his defense credit for.

"They played good behind me. They made some plays tonight," Hunter said. "It was just a matter of throwing strikes and trying to keep the pitch count as low as you can and go as deep as you can. It was a complete game. It was pretty fun."

Added third baseman Michael Young: "I love playing behind Tommy. I always have. He gets the ball, gets back on the mound and goes after them. He trusts his stuff. He's up there trying to throw good pitches. He's aggressive in the strike zone.

"Those are the type of guys you want to play defense behind."

Hunter's aptitude to hit the strike zone -- 76 of his 117 pitches were strikes -- clearly frustrated the Rays.

"He made us swing the bats a lot and we were hitting balls off-center. We were putting balls in play, but very weakly," Rays first baseman Carlos Pena said. "And to a point where after you take a swing, you're like, 'That ball was right there.' The next thing you know you're topping it. So he must have had very good movement.

"Very deceptive movement because where we were swinging, the ball wasn't."

Hunter got all the run support he would need in the first inning. After Elvis Andrus scored from third on Evan Longoria's fielding error, Josh Hamilton hit the first pitch he saw into the right-field bullpen to give the Rangers a 3-0 lead.

"Josh always seems to hit a home run when I pitch. It's ridiculous," Hunter said. "We were talking about it [Friday], actually. He hit another. Good for him, good for us. Thank you."

The Rangers added another run in the second and two more in the third. Justin Smoak scored on Andrus' RBI groundout and Julio Borbon followed in the sixth with a run-scoring sacrifice bunt. Andrus capped the scoring with a triple off the right-field wall.

"I talked to [Borbon] before [Rays manager Joe] Madden went out to the mound and told him to be aware because I might put the squeeze on," Washington said. "The first pitch, he was very aggressive and I think that might have changed their mindset. So I put the squeeze on and it worked."

Hunter's start was vastly different than his last one in Triple-A, when he took a loss by giving up five earned runs on 10 hits in five innings of work. But it wasn't anything that concerned Washington.

"No, it didn't. The key to him was just that he was healthy," Washington said. "As long as he was healthy, we knew what we were getting out of him because he's a gamer. He's going to leave everything he has out there."

Despite the dominating performance, Hunter knew he couldn't be satisfied with his second career complete game.

"This is my job. I'm supposed to do that. Today I did my job," Hunter said. "You're going to be excited about the start and what you did. But you've got another start in five days."

Chris Cox is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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