Rangers drop series opener in Houston

Rangers drop series opener in Houston

HOUSTON -- Roll call for the Rangers on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park:

Milton Bradley? Sidelined with a strained quad. Jamey Wright? Home with his wife and new baby. Josh Hamilton? Gone after four innings with inflammation in his left knee.

That's the Rangers' leader in batting, their leader in RBIs and their leader in games pitched. With all that to overcome, the Rangers went down, 4-3, to the Astros on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park. The Rangers dropped back to .500 on the season and 2-2 with two games to go in their Lone Star Series with the Astros.

"We were a little short and we still almost pulled that sonofagun out," manager Ron Washington said.

Hamilton was 0-for-2 with a strikeout and a double play before his knee forced him out, while Bradley didn't start for the sixth straight game. He did pinch-hit with two on and two out in the seventh and hit a screaming liner right at wobbly left fielder Carlos Lee to end the threat.

Wright wasn't at the ballpark at all, and the Rangers had to go with Joaquin Benoit in the eighth inning with the score 2-1. Benoit immediately gave up a two-run home run to Lance Berkman, and that proved decisive when Ramon Vazquez hit a two-run shot for the Rangers in the top of the ninth.

Washington said Wright would have been pitching in that spot if he had not returned home Monday for the birth of his second child. Benoit used to pitch in those situations, but has fallen in the bullpen pecking order, and Tuesday night's performance isn't going to help improve his standing.

Benoit has made five appearances in June while missing almost two weeks with shoulder inflammation, and has allowed eight runs on eight hits and eight walks in 4 1/3 innings pitched.

"I don't think health is the issue," Washington said. "Maybe we'll have to switch [his role] around to get him going. That was the perfect situation for him, down one run. We just needed him to get three outs. We've got to figure out the problem with Joaquin because we certainly need him."

All of this left rookie Eric Hurley with his first Major League loss on a night when he held the Astros to just two runs in six innings. The Astros scored two off him in the second, and he now has a 4.24 ERA in three starts without a victory to show for it.

Hurley also had a sixth-inning single, and is the third Rangers pitcher to get his first Major League hit this season. Scott Feldman and Kason Gabbard also did it earlier this month during a three-game series against the Mets at Shea Stadium. But, like Hurley, they also ended up the losing pitchers.

"I'll take that outing every time out," Hurley said. "This team is going to put up some runs. Six runs in two innings? Nine times out of 10 you're going to win with this lineup."

It will help when Bradley and Hamilton were 100 percent again, or close to it. The Astros weren't exactly crying with sympathy when they saw Hamilton have to leave the game. Starter Brian Moehler noticed the change immediately when Brandon Boggs went out on defense in the fifth inning.

"I did," Moehler said. "I was on deck and I noticed they made a switch. Our game plan was to not let him beat us. He's a special player."

Moehler, facing a limited lineup, held the Rangers to one run on five hits and two walks in 6 1/3 innings. Ian Kinsler doubled and Michael Young singled him home in the first inning, but that would be the Rangers' only hit with runners in scoring position. The Rangers had seven runners on base in the sixth through eighth innings but couldn't score.

They also loaded the bases with two outs in the sixth with Hamilton's spot at the plate. Hamilton is 4-for-8 with two grand slams this year with the bases loaded, but Boggs took that at-bat instead. He flied out to end the inning.

"We have some good outfielders, but you're talking about two of the best hitters in the league in Hamilton and Bradley," Marlon Byrd said. "We need them. Our lineup completely changes with them in there."

Or when they are not.

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