ANAHEIM -- The people who figure the statistics figured out Kason Gabbard had 10.80 ERA in Spring Training. Manager Ron Washington and pitching coach Mark Connor weren't looking at the numbers. They were looking at the pitcher, his health, what he had done last year and what he was working on to get better. Both kept insisting over and over Gabbard would be fine once the season started. Gabbard was, too. They were unswerving in their belief, even when Luis Mendoza made a late spring charge to unseat him as the No. 4 starter.
Gabbard, at least in his first start of the season, proved them right on the mark by throwing seven scoreless innings in the Rangers' 11-6 victory over the Angels on Friday night at Angel Stadium. There was absolutely no resemblance to what Gabbard did in Spring Training and what he showed on Friday night. "I always told you guys I trusted Gabbard," Washington said. "What I saw in Spring Training was the guy got better every time out. I like the way he pitched last year. He's got a lot of guts. Tonight he did a great job keeping a great team down. He showed what pitching's all about. He changed speeds, threw strikes and kept the ball down." The only time Gabbard looked this effective in Spring Training was in a Minor League game on the back fields. But this wasn't Class A High Desert with the only spectators being guys sitting around on golf carts. This was the defending American League West champions before a sellout crowd at their home opener. "I told you guys when I was struggling in Spring Training that I would be ready for that first start," Gabbard said. "Obviously adrenaline is a big part of it, but tonight I let my fastball work for me and made big situations in big counts." This game turned on two bases-loaded at-bats in the fourth inning. In one instance, the pitcher went with his third best pitch and paid dearly. In the Rangers' instance, their pitcher went with his best pitch and escaped unscathed. The Rangers were leading 1-0 with one out in the fourth inning when Ben Broussard, their first baseman batting in the seventh spot, came to bat with the bases jammed against Angels starter Dustin Moseley. "I knew he had to come to me," Broussard said. "I was just trying to hit a fly ball. I had no idea what he was going to throw, he had been mixing it up all night." Moseley had been mixing fastballs and changeups, but, in a 1-1 count, decided to throw a curveball and Broussard hit it in the seats over the right-field wall for the sixth grand slam of his career. "We need that," Washington said. "We had been struggling to score runs and we finally broke out there." Moseley said he had thrown two breaking pitches to that point in the game. "Going to your third best pitch in that point in the game isn't very smart, and he took advantage of it." Gabbard found himself in the same predicament in the bottom of the inning. The Angels put together a couple of hits and a walk to load the bases with one out. First baseman Robb Quinlan, also batting seventh and also playing first base, was up and Gabbard fell behind 2-0 in the count. After a conference with pitching coach Mark Connor, Gabbard threw a sinker low and away and Quinlan pulled it right at shortstop Michael Young to start the inning-ending double play. That was one of four double plays the Rangers infield turned on the night. "That was huge, for our guys and me," Gabbard said. "That was their best chance of getting back in the game. I just trusted my [sinker] and hoped they would hit ground balls to our guys." From that point, Gabbard breezed through the Angels lineup, allowing just two batters to reach base in the next three innings on a walk and a single. He might have gone further but twisted his ankle slightly in the sixth inning covering first base, and Washington said he started "laboring" in the seventh. The results didn't show it. "Gabbard's a soft-throwing lefty like Kenny Rogers," Angels outfielder Torii Hunter said. "He doesn't give in. He's going to throw that [sinker] down and keep throwing it. An aggressive team like we have can have trouble with those guys. Once he got out of there, we started doing some things." They did. The Angels, trailing 11-0, did score six runs in the ninth against relievers Dustin Nippert and Franklyn German, forcing Washington to bring in Eddie Guardado and have closer C.J. Wilson warming up at the end. The Rangers couldn't leave the field until Marlon Byrd caught Garret Anderson's high fly at the right-field wall to end the game. "If we couldn't hold an 11-run lead, then we didn't deserve to win," Washington said. Maybe, but Gabbard deserved to win.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.