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Notes: Pitching staff deceptively strong

Notes: Pitching staff deceptively strong

TORONTO -- The Rangers went into Saturday's game with the second highest ERA in the American League, but they have a hard time accepting the perception that the pitching has been that bad.

What's impacted the ERA more than anything are the 30 runs the Rangers gave up in Brandon McCarthy's last two starts. He pitches Sunday against the Blue Jays, and getting him back on track may be the biggest factor in the Rangers getting their pitching staff where they want it to be.

"I'm expecting a well-pitched game," pitching coach Mark Connor said. "I just think so, from what we've talked about and what we've done between starts. I hate to say it, but he needs to kick down the intensity.

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"[He needs to] cut the intensity and the aggressiveness and stay within himself. A guy like him, one or two miles per hour on his pitches isn't going to make a big difference. He's got to get his pitches where he needs them. He gets into a situation where he overthrows instead of executing pitches."

Rangers starters were 7-11 with a 5.94 ERA going into Saturday's game, but Connor likes what he sees from the rest of the rotation. He keeps saying Kevin Millwood is ahead of where he was at this time last year, and Connor is pleased with Vicente Padilla, even though the Rangers' No. 2 starter is 0-3 with a 5.79 ERA. A staff-high six unearned runs hasn't helped.

"Padilla has thrown the ball well; he has just been the victim of some misplayed balls -- him, more than anybody," Connor said. "There were a couple of innings where he could have been out of the inning with 14 pitches, but ended up throwing 42 instead."

The Rangers' best starter has been Robinson Tejeda, who is 3-1 with a 3.82 ERA, but Connor sees Kameron Loe not far behind.

"I'm excited about Kameron Loe," Connor said. "The guy has no fear and a quiet confidence. He's become a pitcher. He's throwing a changeup, he's throwing a breaking ball and he's throwing a cut fastball. He's got a chance to be a real quality Major League starter for a long time."

Loe went into the rotation when Jamey Wright went on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation. Wright has not yet resumed his throwing program and is likely still at least 2-3 weeks away from returning.

That gives Loe plenty of time to prove himself as a starter, but it's McCarthy whom the Rangers need to step up right now.

Great expectations: Manager Ron Washington was hoping to get 20-25 home runs and 75-80 RBIs out of Sammy Sosa this year. He may get that by the All-Star break.

"A lot of people had different opinions on what I could do," Sosa said with a big smile. "He said that before I did some things in Spring Training. Now that he has seen me in the regular season making adjustments, he's got to change his mind on what he expects."

Sosa went into Saturday's game hitting .253 with seven home runs and 19 RBIs. He's on pace for 51 home runs and 139 RBIs. He's probably not going to get to that level, but he's certainly not going to be happy with 25 home runs and 80 RBIs.

"My expectations were minimal; his are maximum," Washington said. "I just said what I would be satisfied with. That doesn't mean he's got to be satisfied with that."

Washington is happy to have been proven right in his January assessment of Sosa, when many others didn't believe the slugger could come back so strong after sitting out a year.

"I was one of a few guys who believed in Sammy," Washington said. "I put my reputation on the line, but I never doubted him."

Racking up K's: Rangers pitchers struck out 14 batters on Friday night, giving them 33 strikeouts in their last three games. That's the most in a three-game stretch since Aug. 25-28, 2001, when they struck out 35.

Akinori Otsuka struck out the side in the ninth on just 15 pitches on Friday night and has yet to be scored upon in 10 appearances.

"My mechanics are good, and my stuff is good," Otsuka said. "But that was the best I've pitched so far."

He said it: "To me, Mark McGwire is a Hall of Famer. I don't care if he didn't answer questions in front of Congress. Nobody ever prepared better, and nobody was a better teammate than Mark McGwire. Nobody passed on the way the game is supposed to be played more than Mark McGwire." -- Washington, who coached McGwire in Oakland

Friday's Minor stars: Top performances from Friday's Minor League games:

Gold: Eric Hurley pitched seven scoreless innings in Frisco's 1-0 victory over Corpus Christi. He allowed four hits, struck out five and did not walk a batter.

Silver: Infielder Micah Furtado was 2-2 with two walks, a triple and four RBIs and Matt Smith was 3-for-3 with an RBI in Bakersfield's 12-10 victory over Lancaster.

Bronze: John Koronka allowed one run on three hits and a walk in 6 2/3 innings in Oklahoma's 5-1 victory over New Orleans. He struck out four.

Briefly: According to the Rangers, good seats still remain for the three-game series with the Yankees. ... Michael Young will DH on Sunday, and Matt Kata will start at shortstop. ... Class A Bakersfield pitcher John Slusarz has been placed on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation.

Up next: McCarthy pitches for the Rangers against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on Sunday, with first pitch scheduled for 12:07 p.m. CT. Tomo Ohka goes for the Blue Jays.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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