TORONTO -- The Rangers' mission for their starting rotation: Get left-handed hitters out. It's been a huge problem for them this month. Entering Sunday's game with the Toronto Blue Jays, left-handed hitters were hitting well over .300 against all five Rangers starters. As a result, the Rangers pitching staff as a whole had allowed a .388 batting average against left-handed hitters, the highest in the American League. They had also allowed 20 home runs to left-handed hitters, the highest in the league. "We're just not making good pitches to them," pitching coach Mark Connor said. "Most right-handed starters who get left-handed hitters out do so by pitching inside, and they have a changeup. That's something we've been focusing on, especially with [Vicente] Padilla."
Entering Sunday, four of the Rangers starters were in the top 25 in the AL in opponent's batting average. Brandon McCarthy (.412) was seventh, Kevin Millwood (.346) was 17th, Padilla (.333) was 19th and Robinson Tejeda (.321) was 22nd. Opponents are hitting .316 off Kameron Loe. Tejeda has held right-handed hitters to a .175 average, while Padilla has held them to a .203 average. "We've made some mistakes on a couple of left-handed hitters the past couple of days," Connor said. "There are some good left-handed hitters in this league. But we need to be able to get the ball inside on left-handers and keep it there, and elevate it for strikes." Rangers relievers, even the right-handers, have been far more effective against left-handers. Going into Sunday's games, left-handed hitters were 1-for-15 against Akinori Otsuka, 4-for-21 off Joaquin Benoit and 4-for-15 vs. Scott Feldman. They were 1-for-10 off lefty Ron Mahay, and 0-for-11 against C.J. Wilson. Wilkerson's big hit: Brad Wilkerson said his two-run single in the ninth inning against the Blue Jays on Saturday was his biggest hit with the Rangers. Wilkerson was batting with the bases loaded, two outs and the Rangers trailing, 7-6. "It felt good," Wilkerson said. "To get a hit with two outs in the ninth, it's too bad we just didn't win it right there in the ninth. Even though it's early in the year, coming through with two out in the ninth, yeah, I'd say it was the biggest." He needs to continue to come through in those situations. Wilkerson batted .205 with runners in scoring position in 2006 and was just 2-for-32 in those situations with two outs. With Washington in 2005, Wilkerson batted .283 with runners in scoring position, including .291 when there were two out. "For me personally, when you come up in those situations and can come through, some people who have their doubts about me might change their minds," Wilkerson said. "Now that I'm close to what I was physically, I'll come up with those hits more during the season." Millwood seeks complete outing: Millwood likes the way he's throwing the ball, and Connor keeps saying that, physically, Millwood's ahead of where he was last year at this point in the season. Still, Millwood is frustrated that one big inning per start seems to be costing him. The Rangers led, 4-1, going into the sixth inning on Saturday, but Millwood gave up four runs and never made it out of the inning. "I'm not sure what it is," Millwood said. "I'm all right. I still have some confidence working. It's not like I don't have any of that. I'll start worrying when my confidence goes." Cruz sits: Manager Ron Washington was hoping to get outfielder Nelson Cruz more consistent at-bats, but Cruz appears to be the victim of Sammy Sosa's hot streak and Washington's desire to use Mark Teixeira and Michael Young at designated hitter. Cruz was out of the starting lineup on Sunday and is not expected to be in the starting lineup on Monday against right-hander Roy Halladay. Cruz has started just twice on the road trip, and both were against left-handed starters. "That's just the way things are going in Toronto," Washington said. "With Tex and Mike at DH, somebody has to come out. I'd like to get him in five games a week, but the fact that I'm DH-ing Mike and Tex [means] somebody has to come out of the lineup." Sosa entered Sunday's game with eight hits in his last 19 at-bats with three home runs and seven RBIs.
"I'm certainly not going to take his bat out of the lineup," Washington said.Saturday's Minor stars: Top performances from the Rangers Minor Leagues on Saturday: Gold: Oklahoma starter Mike Wood allowed one run on four hits over seven innings in a 10-1 victory over New Orleans on Saturday. He struck out nine and walked one. Silver: Travis Metcalf was 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles and Jake Blalock was 2-for-3 with three RBIs in Frisco's 5-2 victory at Corpus Christi. Bronze: Outfielder Craig Gentry was 3-for-4 with a home run and a double in Clinton's 11-9 loss to Great Lakes. He said it: "I never DH'ed. You have to be a good hitter to DH." -- Washington, on his hitting prowess during his playing days Briefly: Teixeira had two doubles and a home run on Saturday, which marks the ninth game in his career that he notch three or more extra-base hits. Since the start of the 2003 season, only Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell (10) has more games with three or more extra-base hits. ... Entering Sunday, Rangers pitchers had struck out 46 batters in their last four games. That's the most in a four-game stretch since May 1-5, 1991. That streak started with Nolan Ryan striking out 16 Blue Jays in his seventh career no-hitter. Up next: Padilla looks for his first victory of the season as the Rangers close out a four-game series with the Blue Jays at 6:07 p.m. CT on Monday at Rogers Centre. Halladay pitches 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.