Cruz continues tear in Rangers' win

Cruz continues tear in Rangers' win

HOUSTON -- Ian Kinsler and Michael Young did not play on Saturday afternoon at Minute Maid Park. It's the first time in four years that the two All-Star teammates were both on the active roster and neither played in the game.

Turns out, it was not a problem for the Rangers. The Rangers still had Scott Feldman on the mound, Omar Vizquel in the leadoff spot, Nelson Cruz in the cleanup spot and Hank Blalock back at his old spot at third base.

That combination was more than enough to spur the Rangers to their second straight win over the Astros with a 6-3 victory in the second game of the Lone Star Series.

Cruz, after winning Friday's game with a 10th-inning home run, hit two more on Saturday while driving in four runs, Vizquel sparked a couple of rallies with a couple of key hits from the top of the order, and Blalock had three hits, including his 11th home run.

The Rangers were also without closer Frank Francisco. Manager Ron Washington and pitching coach Mike Maddux didn't want to use him two days in a row after just coming off the disabled list, so C.J. Wilson worked the ninth for his third save.

Cruz, Blalock and Vizquel made sure the Rangers' offense didn't suffer from the absence of Young and Kinsler while Feldman just continued to do what he's been doing since he entered the rotation on April 24. He threw strikes with four pitches, stayed ahead of hitters, pitched aggressively to contact and helped his team win the game.

Not the proverbial "chance to win." The Rangers won again with Feldman on the mound.

"Feldman left his heart out there and did a great job," Washington said. "He gave us all he had and that's all we needed."

Feldman, as has been his tendency, just cut down one batter after another in his first two trips through the Astros order. Through six innings, he faced 21 batters and allowed just one run, three hits and a walk and was sitting on a 6-1 lead.

"He was good," Astros catcher Ivan Rodriguez said. "He was pitching great. He wasn't missing his spots -- good breaking ball, good fastball, good sinker. I was having a good at-bat in the second at-bat, fouled off some tough pitches and he ended up striking me out. "

Geoff Blum hit a two-run home run in the seventh that pretty much brought Feldman's afternoon to a close, but he is now 3-0 with a 2.52 ERA in six starts. The Rangers are 5-1 when Feldman pitches; including the last four times he has been on the mound. They were 8-17 in his 25 starts in 2008.

"I feel like I'm going out there with more and more confidence and throwing all my pitches effectively," Feldman said. "My confidence in all my pitches is getting better and it makes it a lot easier to pitch when you're ahead in the count."

The only run Feldman allowed through six innings came on the second batter of the game. Miguel Tejada hit a drive just over the right-field wall that barely eluded Cruz as he tried to make a leaping catch. The play was ruled a home run although Cruz and Washington claimed a fan's interference prevented a catch from being made.

Instant replay was used for the first time in a Rangers game, but the home run was upheld, according to crew chief Gary Cederstrom.

"They went in and checked it and said home run," Washington said. "I had nothing more to say about it. It was just one run. I figured if we couldn't score more than one run, we didn't need to worry about that."

The Rangers did score more than one run even though Astros starter Brian Moehler began the game by retiring the first nine batters he faced. Vizquel ended that run with a single to start the fourth, and that's just what the Rangers needed. Josh Hamilton doubled him to third with one out and Cruz then crushed a 3-2 pitch deep over the left-field wall for a three-run home run.

Vizquel drove in a run with an RBI single in the fifth, and then Cruz and Blalock hit back-to-back home runs off Moehler in the sixth. It's the second time this season the Rangers have hit back-to-back home runs this season.

Cruz was batting cleanup for only the second time this season. Washington woke up Saturday morning with a "gut feeling" that it was the right thing to do and his intestinal instincts proved correct. Cruz is now 7-for-15 with four home runs and eight RBIs in his last four games after going 5-for-31 with no home runs in his previous nine games.

"My swing is there," Cruz said. "I don't worry about home runs, they'll come. I just worry about being consistent and getting my knocks. It doesn't matter where I hit, I've got to do my job."

Washington has been reluctant to use Cruz in the cleanup spot because of his tendency to chase breaking pitches out of the strike zone. But he's showing some discipline at the plate right now and that may lead to an extended look in the cleanup spot.

"I know he can handle it," Washington said. "If he can start laying off the bad breaking ball, there's no reason why he can't hit there."

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