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Solid Millwood, hot bats spark Rangers

Solid Millwood, hot bats spark Rangers

CINCINNATI -- Kevin Millwood, staked to a three-run lead in the first inning, started off Sunday like the same injured struggling pitcher that the Rangers have been concerned about for two months.

Then he finished his afternoon with a brief but strong glimpse of being the No. 1 starter the Rangers need him to be, showing a fierce determination to keep a tight hold on his early lead.

Millwood had said the day before that baseball is too hard to get things turned around quickly, but he seemed to do that, pitching the Rangers to an 11-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park.

"He was on a mission, and he accomplished the mission," manager Ron Washington said.

Millwood allowed four runs on six hits but struck out 10 to earn his first victory since April 13, when he defeated the Seattle Mariners. He is now 3-6 with a 7.62 ERA on the season.

"I've made some minor changes, and the longer the game went on, the more comfortable I got, and the better things went," Millwood said. "That wasn't exactly what I wanted, but it's something I can build on."

Millwood allowed eight of the first 14 batters he faced to reach base, then turned around and retired 12 of the last 13. He finished with a flourish, striking out the side in the bottom of the sixth to become the first Rangers starter to strike out 10 in a game this season.

He was still throwing 93 mph in the sixth on a warm, humid afternoon along the Ohio River. Game-time temperature was 89 degrees, but it only got warmer as the day progressed.

"I felt strong the whole time I was out there," Millwood said. "I was definitely getting a little tired with the heat at the end, but I still felt strong. I felt that my breaking ball had good snap late in the game, and that's a good sign."

"He was good," Washington said. "I thought he kept his pitches down and used both sides of the plate, and his offspeed stuff was good. That's the kind of outing he needed to get going."

Millwood had two pivotal moments after Marlon Byrd's two-run double helped give him a 3-0 lead. Millwood hit a batter, walked Ken Griffey Jr. and gave up a two-out single to Edwin Encarnacion that scored a run. He then walked Josh Hamilton to bring up Reds catcher David Ross, who had hit two home runs the night before.

Millwood fell behind, 3-1, then got Ross to hit a well-placed fastball right at third baseman Travis Metcalf, who stepped on the bag to end the threat.

"That's the old Millwood, bend but don't break," Washington said. "It's nice to see him get that rush going. He found out he still has it. From there, he kept on working. It wasn't the best conditions -- it was warm -- but he kept on working."

The second pivotal moment came in the bottom of the third. The Rangers were up, 4-1, after a double by Frank Catalanotto and a single by Adam Melhuse. But Millwood gave up a single to Griffey and the first of two home runs to Adam Dunn.

That made it 4-3, then Millwood put the tying run in scoring position when Encarnacion singled and went to second on a wild pitch.

But Millwood's afternoon changed dramatically at that point. He kept Encarnacion from scoring by retiring the next three hitters, and he only got stronger the rest of the way.

"I definitely wanted to hold on to the lead," he said. "I'm a firm believer that the biggest inning of the game is that half-inning after your team scores. That's when you need to shut the other team down. Not giving up the extra runs was not only huge for me, but big for the psyche of the whole team."

The Rangers responded to their starter's grit by scoring in each of the next three innings, and added four runs in the top of the ninth. Melhuse had three hits in his second start at catcher, and Byrd hit a home run in addition to his two-run double off the top of the center-field wall in the first inning.

"I told [Byrd that] if he hadn't been working so hard on days he was playing, he would have been strong enough to hit that ball out," Washington said. "Then he hit that second one out over the center-field fence, came back to the dugout and said, 'What do you think about that?' "

The manager liked it. But most of all, he liked what he saw on the mound from a guy who is supposed to be their No. 1 pitcher. Millwood hasn't been lately, and he knows it. He was 0-5 with a 10.05 ERA in his last seven starts coming into this outing.

"I knew it was a matter of time, but it was going on longer and longer than I had ever experienced," said Millwood. "Today was a good game to build off. There's room for improvement, but it was nice."

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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{"content":["interleague_play" ] }