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Rangers never counted themselves out

Rangers didn't quit during first half

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By the beginning of June, the Rangers' path for the second half of the season was all but written in stone.

They were hopelessly out of the pennant race and No. 1 on the list of teams that would be sellers at the July 31 trade deadline. Mark Teixeira and relievers Eric Gagne and Akinori Otsuka were most prominently mentioned.

Now that path is not quite as clear even though only the most optimistic would suggest the Rangers will get back into the pennant race.

But they are playing better baseball. They are showing signs that they are not the terrible team that they presented over the first two months of the season. They were 14-12 in June after a 9-20 May and they had a winning road trip against the Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox, two of the best teams in baseball.

Big trades designed to build for the future could derail that momentum. That's the paradox that Jon Daniels must face as the Rangers proceed into the second half and clubs keep calling him about his players.

"We'll have an opportunity to do something," Daniels said. "We have to see what makes sense. Right now nothing has. We'll see."

The Rangers' improvement in June came despite injuries to key players. Teixeira, third baseman Hank Blalock and second baseman Ian Kinsler are all on the disabled list. So is No. 2 starter Vicente Padilla, who was 3-8 with a 6.69 ERA in the first half while pitching with pain in his right elbow.

But the Rangers were able to play better even without those key pieces as Marlon Byrd, Michael Young, Sammy Sosa and Kenny Lofton have carried an improvised lineup.

"That's because guys in the clubhouse stepped up," manager Ron Washington said. "That's what happens on a good team. That's the character of this team -- they keep battling and fighting to the very end. But what it comes down to is good pitching, especially good starting pitching. That's what we need."

The Rangers didn't get good starting pitching in the first half. Four of five in their Opening Day rotation spent time on the disabled list.

There is still much to sort out, but things are getting better. After getting a last-minute reprieve from banishment to Triple-A, Kameron Loe has been terrific of late. Kevin Millwood is over his hamstring injury that limited him to one start in May. Brandon McCarthy seems to be over his blister problems. Jamey Wright is back after missing 2 1/2 months because of shoulder inflammation.

The bad news is Robinson Tejeda has regressed. The Rangers also don't know what Padilla has to offer in the second half.

The Rangers do know that when the rotation is sound, their bullpen can be used properly and be the strength that they expected in Spring Training.

"I have high hopes for all these guys," pitching coach Mark Connor said. "Hopefully in the second half we can get the same five guys going every fifth day, get some positive momentum going and see if we can pitch better."

RANGERS TOP PERFORMANCES
4/26, CLE 9, TEX 4 -- Young climbs the ladder
Michael Young makes a remarkable leaping grab to rob Josh Barfield of a hit.
Highlights: 400K
5/13, TEX 7, LAA 6 -- Cruz blasts walk-off HR
Nelson Cruz bangs a walk-off home run into the Rangers bullpen, lifting the team to a win over the Angels.
Highlights: 400K
6/1, TEX 9, SEA 8 -- Lofton robs Beltre
Kenny Lofton climbs the center-field wall to steal a homer away from Adrian Beltre.
Highlights: 400K
6/14, TEX 6, PIT 0 -- Metcalf has a blast
For his first career hit, Travis Metcalf goes deep against his former college teammate, the Pirates' Tom Gorzelanny.
Highlights: 400K
6/20, TEX 7, CHC 3 -- Sosa's 600th
Sammy Sosa blasts career homer No. 600 in an Interleague matchup against the Cubs, his former club for many years.
Highlights: 400K
If that happens and they start getting players back off the disabled list, the Rangers might just ride this out and see where it takes them.

"I want to see us continue to improve and evaluate who our core players are going to be for us as we go forward," Daniels said. "Find out who will help us. I'm talking individual as well as team. I'd like to see us continue to play crisp baseball and be more competitive in the next few months. That's going to come from guys improving individually."

The Rangers start the second half with a road trip to Anaheim and Oakland. It's a daunting trip, but no more so than the one they took to Detroit and Boston.

But if the Rangers start to regress again, then the possibility of being a seller at the deadline becomes a reality again. There are players at Triple-A who could get a look, most notably outfielder Jason Botts and pitchers Mike Wood, John Rheinecker and Eric Hurley.

"There are some guys in the Minor Leagues who are making a case to get consideration," Daniels said. "We're not there yet. I like the way we've been playing the last three weeks. I like the chemistry that it's created, the feeling that we are never out of a game. There's an opportunity here, but the first chance is going to the guys who are here."

There is still time before the deadline to stave off major changes. Suddenly the classic clichés of throwing in the towel or running up the white flag are no longer in play, at least for now."

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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