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McCarthy helps cause, tops Mariners

McCarthy helps cause with victory

ARLINGTON -- Right-hander Brandon McCarthy delivered his second straight quality start, first baseman Hank Blalock had two hits and two RBIs and Nelson Cruz had a two-hit game.

Plus, Frank Francisco earned his third save in week, as the Rangers moved back to within four games of the .500 mark with a 6-4 victory over the Mariners on Tuesday.

This is what September is all about for a team that remains 17 1/2 games out of first place and 14 games out of the Wild Card. The Rangers have entered the evaluation stage of the season, and each game presents a bit of new evidence on everybody, especially those who could use a strong September to enhance their standing for 2009.

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Even Kameron Loe, whose future with the club is uncertain, chipped in with a scoreless seventh inning after McCarthy departed.

"You want to try and win as many games as possible, and you want to see good signs from everybody," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "Everybody is still showing up and giving a good effort, and tonight we were able to shut down a ballgame the way we were supposed to."

McCarthy could be as important as anybody, considering the time he missed out of the rotation and the difficulties the Rangers had in replacing him. The horse dashed out that barn door long ago, but McCarthy is at least positioning himself to leave the Rangers one final good impression as their season comes to an end.

"It's important, but I don't put any more importance on this September than I do any other September. I want to throw as well as I possibly can. If I leave a good impression for next season, that's great, but I don't put any extra pressure on myself to do that."

McCarthy, who missed 4 1/2 months with severe inflammation in his right forearm, held the Mariners to two runs on four hits over six innings. He did not walk a batter and struck out four. He has walked just one batter in his last 12 innings. He walked 4.2 batters per nine innings last year.

His fastball is better, he is throwing the changeup when he is behind in the count and he is able to throw his curveball to get strikeouts. He is getting ahead of hitters. He is doing all the basic things pitchers need to do to be successful at the Major League level.

The Rangers obviously want to see it for a full season, not just September, but it's at least something at this point. Washington would like to see McCarthy go deeper in games, but a 31-pitch first inning put him in an early deficit. He ended up throwing 102 pitches over six, and Washington didn't want to push him.

"We'd like to see him minimize his pitch counts and go deeper into games," Washington said. "His pitch counts gets him, especially coming off arm trouble. But he's making steps."

The Rangers supported McCarthy with a 15-hit night. Josh Hamilton and Milton Bradley led the way with three hits each. Hamilton also had three RBIs, giving him 121 for the season. It's the 11th time in club history that a player has driven in 120 runs in a season, the sixth time in the last nine seasons.

Blalock, trying to leave the Rangers with a reminder he can hit, went 2-for-4 with two RBIs. He is 9-for-26 in his last six games after going 4-for-24 in his first six after coming off the disabled list. The two RBIs were his first since he was activated on Aug. 22.

"He's a professional hitter," Washington said. "He's grinding, hitting the ball to the opposite field, having some good at-bats. Nobody has any worries about him."

Nelson Cruz also went 2-for-4 with a triple and has six hits in his last 14 at-bats to raise his batting average to .281 in nine games since being recalled from Triple-A Oklahoma. That's a small sample, but that's all September offers. He is at least assured of playing every day in right field through the end of the month no matter how he does, and that might make a difference.

"I'm starting to see the ball better, and my timing is there," Cruz said. "I need to be a little more patient and be relaxed, but that's going to come. It's going to come. But I'm feeling better with every at-bat."

McCarthy left with a 6-2 lead before the Mariners scored two in the eighth, one each off relievers Bill White and Joaquin Benoit. That made it 6-4, but Francisco took over in the ninth and finished it off. He struck out the first two batters he faced, had pinch-hitter Luis Valbuena reach on an error, then struck out Ichiro Suzuki to end the game.

Francisco is 3-for-3 as a closer since Eddie Guardado left, allowing just one hit in 3 1/3 scoreless innings. He has not walked a batter and struck out seven. He is in an audition just like others, and the initial impression has been positive.

"He's in a spot right now where he doesn't want to lose," catcher Gerald Laird said. "You can see it in his eyes. He's always wanted to be a closer and got another shot tonight and mowed them down."

Just another sign for the Rangers to consider in September.

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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