Rangers take opener in battle of Texas

Rangers take Texas opener

HOUSTON -- Robinson Tejeda apparently was right from what he said earlier this week.

"I'm back," Tejeda said, after flirting with a no-hitter for five innings. "That's all I can say. I'm back."

The Rangers need him back and some others as well. On a team that's been hit hard by injuries, they're going to need some of their young players and role players to come on quickly, and that's what happened for at least one night at Minute Maid Park.

Tejeda pitched five-plus strong innings, and Nelson Cruz and Ramon Vazquez hit back-to-back home runs in a five-run third inning that carried the Rangers to a 7-4 victory over the Houston Astros on Friday.

The victory snapped the Rangers' four-game losing streak.

"I thought we've been playing good baseball for three days," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "On the fourth day we got what good baseball is supposed to get you -- a W."

Cruz and Vazquez were both called upon to help replace the loss of third baseman Hank Blalock, who is out for 10-12 weeks with a shoulder problem. Cruz stepped into the No. 5 spot in the order and hit a big two-run home run, and Vazquez delivered three hits in his first start at third base for the Rangers.

"It definitely feels good to go out there and help the ballclub," said Vazquez, who was called up from Triple-A Oklahoma on Thursday. "But I've been here before and had good games before. I just got good pitches to hit tonight, that's all."

Cruz got a good pitch to hit. He followed Sammy Sosa's two-run double by taking a fastball from Astros starter Matt Albers over the right-field fence to give the Rangers a 4-0 lead in the third.

"He's been having better at-bats the past week," Washington said. "That's what he's capable of doing, hitting the ball the opposite way. I'm happy for him. I hope his confidence continues to grow, because we're going to need that as the season goes on."

Beginning with his walk-off home run against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on Sunday, Cruz has six hits in his last 21 at-bats.

"I'm feeling a little more comfortable at the plate the last few games," Cruz said.

Vazquez followed Cruz with a home run of his own, only his eighth in 1,151 Major League games.

Tejeda took it from there, holding the Astros without a hit through five innings. Craig Biggio ended any notions of a no-hitter with a single to lead off the sixth, then Mike Lamb walked and Lance Berkman singled to load the bases.

Washington, even with a 7-0 lead at that point, didn't waste any time, taking out Tejeda and bringing in Scott Feldman to face Carlos Lee.

"[Tejeda] threw the ball as well as we've ever seen," Washington said. "But he had eight days off and he had run out of gas."

Feldman got Lee to hit into a double play. He then balked home a run, but the rally really died with the double-play ball, and the Rangers held on to get Tejeda his first victory since April 27.

He had some physical problems in his last two starts against the Yankees, prompting the Rangers to give him the extra rest. But he felt great in a bullpen session on Wednesday in Florida and was able to carry that over into Friday's start.

"Physically, I felt much better," Tejeda said. "Late in the game, I got tired but everything was good. My arm was good, my control of my fastball was good, my changeup was good and my slider was good. Everything was better."

The old guys didn't do too badly either. Sosa had his two-run double and Kenny Lofton, responding after getting two days off in Florida, was 2-for-4 with a walk, two runs scored and an RBI single. He also reached on a three-base error when Astros center fielder Hunter Pence dropped his deep fly while running up that hill.

Washington referred to that as a triple when he said, "Kenny led the way. Kenny had some great at-bats. It all started with Kenny."

Maybe, but the Rangers have spent the week throwing players on the disabled list and they know that if they're going to get things turned around, their younger players will have to step up quickly.

"They've got to grow up fast and they are," Washington said. "With each passing day, they're growing up more. They're going to make mistakes but they have to learn from them. The games are going to keep coming."

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