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Nippert strong in relief of injured Millwood

Nippert strong in relief of injured Millwood

KANSAS CITY -- Pitcher has swine flu? Call Dustin Nippert.

Tight gluteus muscle and starter can't go any farther? Call Nippert. For whatever your emergency pitching needs -- whether it be spot start or long relief -- call 1-800-NIPPERT and he'll be there.

Nippert was there on Sunday when Kevin Millwood was forced from the game with a tight left glute and won for the second time in five days when the Rangers rallied late to beat the Royals, 7-2, at Kauffman Stadium.

"Nippert saved us again today," Rangers manager Ron Washington said after his team won for the sixth time in seven games to move within 3 1/2 games of the Angels in the American League West.

Millwood left after two scoreless innings and Nippert responded by allowing one run over 4 2/3 innings. Just five days earlier, Nippert stepped in as a starter for Vicente Padilla and beat the Red Sox, 3-1, by allowing one run in 5 2/3 innings.

That's two wins on two runs in 10 1/3 innings over five days if you're scoring at home.

"I just go out there to throw strikes and keep us in the game," Nippert said. "Keep it close and help us win the game. Today I was able to keep the ball down and use all my pitches. I was throwing my changeup a lot and mixing speeds."

Nippert might not have allowed a run all afternoon, but he had to take some time off and let the Rangers score some runs themselves. Nippert retired the first 11 batters he faced -- without the ball leaving the infield -- and 12 of the first 13. But he had to sit while the Rangers batted around in a prolonged three-run seventh inning, and that may have affected him a little.

Nippert wasn't quite as sharp in the bottom of the seventh as a walk, a hit batter and a two-out single by Alex Gordon ended the shutout. Darren O'Day took over for Nippert and struck out Yuniesky Betancourt on three pitches to end the inning. The Rangers then broke the game open with four more runs in the eighth.

"I don't know if I was getting tired or the last few days caught up with me," Nippert said. "My changeup was up and my fastball was up. I felt fine, but my arm might have been tired."

The Rangers actually did everything they could to get shut out on Sunday and didn't succeed in the attempt. They were totally frustrated by Sidney Ponson for six innings and then almost blew another big scoring opportunity in the seventh. But Royals second baseman Alberto Callaspo lost a popup in the sun, dropped it for an error and let the Rangers' first run score. That changed the entire game.

"We needed anything right there," designated hitter Andruw Jones said. "Sometimes we're trying to get the job done too badly instead of waiting for the guy to make a mistake and take advantage of it. We were pressing too much. We hadn't scored."

Ponson shut out the Rangers for six innings. The Rangers had two runners thrown out on the bases and also didn't score in the sixth after a leadoff double by Michael Young. But they went to work in the seventh after left-handed reliever Ron Mahay took over for Ponson.

Jones started the seventh-inning rally with a double to left and went to third on a single by Nelson Cruz. After right-hander Jamey Wright replaced Mahay, Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit a chopper to first baseman Billy Butler and Jones was thrown out at home. With runners at first and second, Cruz then stole third, but Wright struck out Elvis Andrus for the second out of the inning.

That brought up Ian Kinsler, who hit a high popup to the right side of the infield that should have brought the inning to an end. Callaspo at first couldn't find the ball. When he did, he had to run it down on the grass in short right-center field and dropped it as he tried to make a running catch. Cruz scored, and the Rangers finally opened up offensively.

"From that point on, we were able to play the type of game we like to play," Washington said. "Things just started opening up."

RBI singles by Young and Marlon Byrd made it 3-0. After the Royals finally scored, Jones responded with a leadoff home run in the eighth to start a four-run rally.

"It always takes the emotion out of you when you give up three unearned runs in one inning," Royals manager Trey Hillman said. "That happens regardless of how you're going. But it happens even more so when you've only got a couple hits on the board and you're having a miserable time offensively."

Nippert made sure the Royals were having a miserable time offensively.

"It was a strange game," Young said. "The story of the game was Nip and the sun. We got the sun ball and after that we came alive. Give Ponson credit. He threw a really good game. He had a lot of life on his sinker down in the zone. We caught a big break in the seventh and took it over."

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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