ARLINGTON -- Hall of Fame pitcher Christy Mathewson was known as the Big Six, either because of a fast train back in that era or because he stood six-feet tall. They don't do nicknames like they did 100 years ago but the Big Six moniker seems to fit Rangers pitcher Scott Feldman right now. It has nothing to do with height or railroads but the number of innings that he delivers every start and how good those outings are. Feldman delivered another quality six innings for the Rangers on Sunday, combining with three relievers to complete a three-game sweep of the Rays in a 5-2 victory at the Ballpark in Arlington.
Jason Jennings, C.J. Wilson and Frank Francisco combined to retire nine straight hitters in relief and the Rangers won their fifth straight game. They remain tied with the Angels for first place in the American League West as the two teams open a three-game series on Monday in Anaheim. "We're a confident team," third baseman Michael Young said. "[The Rays] are a very good team and whoever wants to go to the World Series from the American League has to go through the Rays. They are a talented club and we know they are going to be in the AL mix the whole way. The one thing we did well in this series is we pitched well." Feldman kept it going by doing what he has since he joined the rotation on April 25. He allowed two runs, one earned, on three hits. He walked a season-high four batters and hit one, but the Rangers scored five runs in the first four innings. Feldman, who started the season struggling in the bullpen, is now 7-2 with a 3.25 ERA in 14 starts since moving back into the rotation. Going into Sunday's games, there were only nine starters in the American League who had an ERA lower than 3.25. "I'd like to go deeper into the games," Feldman said. "Six innings looks good when you win, but there are some games when the bullpen could use some extra rest. I've got to eliminate that high-pitch inning that I seem to get into in every game. As long as I keep learning something and making it better, hopefully I'll keep improving. That's my goal." Feldman now has nine "official" quality starts in 14 starts overall this season. A start is considered "quality" if a pitcher goes at least six innings and allows three or fewer runs. Feldman has yet to pitch seven full innings in a start this year but he has gone at least six in 11 of 14 starts. The other three starts weren't bad either. He went five innings in his first start against the Orioles on April 25 and allowed just one run while still building up his pitch count. The Rangers won that night and their season turned around in that game. They were 8-10 going into that game and are 37-25 since then. Feldman went 5 2/3 innings in his second start, allowing three runs. The only other start in which he was unable to pitch at least six innings was on June 13 against the Dodgers. Feldman threw five scoreless innings that night but had to come out after a one-hour, 41-minute delay because of a failed bank of lights. "You can't help but be happy with a guy who goes out there and gives you six innings every time he toes the rubber," manager Ron Washington said. "This is only his second year doing this. What impressed me tonight was he could have spit the bit early when he got in trouble. But he kept fighting and fighting." Feldman struggled in the second and third inning. He loaded the bases with two outs in the second on two walks and a single but struck out Dioner Navarro to keep the Rays from scoring. He allowed two runs in the third inning on a hit batter, walk, double steal, sacrifice fly and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia's throwing error. But he settled down after that and allowed just two hits and a walk in three scoreless innings. "[Feldman] kept the ball down," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He's done good work this year against left-handed hitters. A lot of it looked like a back door cutter and then he'd get in on their hands, too. And we had a lot of jammed swings tonight." The cut fastball -- a pitch that breaks in on left-handed hitters -- has been huge for Feldman this year. Left-handed hitters are batting .193 off him after hitting .291 against him in 2008. Overall, opponents are hitting .230 off him this season, including .217 in his 14 starts. Those are numbers that All-Star pitchers put up. "He has been massive for us," Young said. "We all know that [Kevin] Millwood is the head of our rotation but Feldman has been right there working hard to get better. He has been huge for us. Every time he's on the mound, we feel we have a great chance to win. We have a lot of confidence in him." The Big Six does that for teammates.
Daniel Paulling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.