Murray, Murphy star for Rangers

Murray, Murphy star for Rangers

OAKLAND -- A.J. Murray's second Major League start won't go down as a "quality start" in the statistical books.

A pitcher needs to go six innings to earn that arbitrary distinction. But the Rangers will take it as another sign that their starting pitching is beginning to stabilize after the previous road trip that wrought dire lamentations of doom and gloom.

Murray, given a 3-0 lead by David Murphy before he threw a pitch, limited the Athletics to three runs in 5 1/3 innings, and three relievers did the rest as the Rangers ran their winning streak to four games with a 6-3 victory at McAfee Coliseum on Saturday night.

Frank Francisco, Jamey Wright and Joaquin Benoit followed Murray with 3 2/3 innings of hitless relief to give the Rangers their sixth victory in eight games. That all came since their seven-game losing streak ended, and the Rangers are now tied with the Mariners for third place in the American League West.

"I'm not counting the wins; I just want us to keep playing good baseball," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "As long as we keep pitching and playing defense, we'll stay in ballgames and have a chance to pull them out."

Murray's performance gave Rangers starters their fifth victory in their last six games after they earned just four in their first 25 games of the season. Rangers starters also have a 3.78 ERA in their last eight games. They had an 8.44 ERA during the seven-game losing streak.

"I was just glad I could go out there and help the team get another win and keep this winning streak going," Murray said after getting his first victory in three Major League starts. He has one other Major League win, earned in relief last year.

He had two starts last September, and this was his first start this season, getting the call after Jason Jennings went on the disabled list with a strained right elbow.

"He handled himself well," Washington said. "He showed a lot of poise out there. He used all his pitches and stayed away from the middle of the plate."

Getting a 3-0 lead certainly helped, and that's been a big difference in the Rangers' success of late. Murphy's three-run home run came with two out in the first inning off Oakland starter Chad Gaudin. The Rangers were 3-for-4 with runners in scoring position on the night.

The Rangers are now 25-for-71 with runners in scoring position in their last eight games. That's a .352 average. They were .173 (9-for-52) during the losing streak. Adding 179 points to the overall batting average with runners in scoring position does tend to make a difference.

"When you look at how we're playing right now and the way we were, it's easy to feel good about yourself," Murphy said. "The pitching has been awesome, and we're getting timely hitting. The defense hasn't been great ... there are still some things we can improve upon, but the bottom line is we're getting it done."

The defense had one shaky moment in the sixth. The Rangers were up 5-2 when left fielder Brandon Boggs dropped Emil Brown's fly ball for a three-base error. Murray struck out Jack Cust, but Bobby Crosby singled to center, making it a two-run game.

Francisco replaced Murray, setting up the game's pivotal play. Pinch-hitter Jack Hannahan worked the count full, but Francisco struck him out with a fastball, and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia threw out Crosby trying to steal.

"That was huge right there," Washington said.

There were a few other big plays. Murray twice got Frank Thomas to pop out with runners in scoring position, and Francisco had another seminal moment in the seventh. He walked No. 9 hitter Rajai Davis to lead off the inning, got mad himself and proceeded to strike out Kurt Suzuki on three straight fastballs. A weak popout and a routine grounder finished the inning.

Wright and Benoit did the rest. The bullpen has not given up a run in eight innings over the last three games. It's just another piece that the Rangers need to come together and having a starting rotation that doesn't overburden the bullpen certainly helps.

The starters are averaging just under six innings an outing (47 2/3 innings overall) over their last eight games. They pitched just 26 2/3 innings during the seven-game losing streak. In four of those seven games, the starter failed to pitch more than four innings.

"The offense is there now, the pitching is there and right now the bullpen is doing better," Benoit said. "As long as we keep playing the way we're playing, I think we have a chance to get back in this."

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