KANSAS CITY -- Here is the state of the Rangers' rotation: Rich Harden is being moved to the bullpen, Cliff Lee has a three-game losing streak and Colby Lewis has gone six weeks without a win. Tommy Hunter? He's doing fine. Then there is C.J. Wilson.
Maybe a month ago he was just one of five starters in the Rangers' rotation. Now he's easily one of the hottest pitchers in the American League and certainly ranking among the best since the All-Star break. Wilson threw 7 2/3 scoreless innings in pitching the Rangers to a 3-0 victory over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium on Monday night. The Rangers are now 81/2 games ahead of the Athletics in the American League West with 31 games to play. "Outstanding," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "Once again with each outing he shows what he's really all about." Wilson, who allowed two hits, walked four and struck out six, is now 7-0 with a 1.99 ERA in nine starts since the break and 14-5 with a 2.88 ERA on the season. He is the only American League pitcher with seven wins since the break. "It was a good game but I'm not happy about the walks and getting behind hitters," Wilson said. "But we played some good defense and got some timely hits to get some runs across." C.C. Sabathia appears to be the leading candidate to win the American League Cy Young Award but Wilson has to at least merit a second look and might be a much more serious candidate if not for a 1-2 record and a 4.62 ERA in six starts in May. "He has been on fire," shortstop Elvis Andrus said. "The second half he has been terrific. He's not missing on anything. He's like painting pitches. It's what we've been waiting for." Wilson, far from struggling, was 7-5 with a 3.35 ERA in 18 starts in the first half. Certainly his superb conditioning has allowed him to flourish in the second half but Wilson said there is more. "Just like the first half I'm going about my routine and everything is the same," Wilson said. "But the more looks I get at a team, the better I can analyze them. I know my strengths and what works against them. It gives me an edge. Everybody now I've pitched against before so I am able to prepare more for them." The only hit off Wilson through seven innings was an infield single by Willie Bloomquist with two out in the second: a smartly hit chopper down the first-base line. First baseman Mitch Moreland, trying to handle a tricky hop on a backhand play, could only knock the ball down. But, with runners on first and second with two out, Moreland at least saved one run and possibly two by keeping the ball in the field. The Royals had the bases loaded but Wilson kept it that way by striking out rookie outfielder Jai Miller to end the inning. That was the first of 10 straight hitters Wilson retired in order. "That was the jam," Wilson said. "You're going to get into a jam no matter how good you are pitching. I was just trying to give in and keep making good pitches. They're aggressive hitters but I just made good pitches and got out of it. That's what they teach us in pitching school." Wilson walked Gregor Blanco to start the sixth but got Jason Kendall to hit into a double play. Billy Butler also walked but Wilson Betemit grounded out to third. The Royals didn't get a second hit until Miller lined a single up the middle with one out in the eighth. Wilson came back to strike out Blanco and that was his last hitter of the game. Darren O'Day took over and Moreland brought the inning to an end by making a terrific diving catch to his right on Alex Gordon's line drive. "I don't think we got our second hit until the seventh inning so [Wilson] pitched a great game," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "He was on the attack, kept the ball down, moved the ball in and out really, really well with a nice fastball. "He's pitched like that basically all year long. He's got a real hard 92 mile-an-hour two-seamer that bores in on right-handers and he's got a nice changeup that fades away. His slider and his cutter to left-handers are about as good as you're going to see from a left-hander." The Rangers took a 1-0 lead in the second inning after Nelson Cruz, in his first at-bat since coming off the disabled list, led off with a double. David Murphy moved him to third with a fly to right and Bengie Molina brought him home with a single to right. The Rangers added another run in the fifth. Andres Blanco led off that inning with a triple and scored on a single by Andrus. Blanco had three hits on the night, including a double and a single. Singles by Blanco and Andrus and Michael Young's sacrifice fly made it 3-0 in the eighth.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.