Hunter pens up Tribe to stay red-hot

Hunter pens up Tribe to stay red-hot

CLEVELAND -- The Rangers may have the best rookie pitcher in the American League this year. They also have Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz as well.

Holland and Feliz, members of the Baseball America Top 100 Prospects list before the season began, have both been impressive. They just haven't been Tommy Hunter. But who has?

Hunter, without the Baseball America glitterati attached to his name, continues to roll through an impressive rookie season, pitching 7 2/3 scoreless innings in the Rangers' 5-0 victory over the Indians at Progressive Field on Wednesday.

The victory was Texas fourth in its past six games, but the club remains five games behind the Angels in the American League West and 1 1/2 games behind the Red Sox in the Wild Card standings. The victory also came in front of a couple dozen family and friends of Hunter who made the 4 1/2 hour trip from his hometown of Indianapolis and were rewarded for the petrol investment.

"It's just fun going out there and winning," Hunter said. "It's fun going out there and being a part of something and know you had something to do with it."

Hunter gave up six hits, did not walk a batter and struck out five before C.J. Wilson finished up by retiring the last four Indians -- three by strikeout -- on the night. The Rangers have pitched two shutouts in the past three games ,and they were both started by rookie pitchers. Texas leads the American League with eight shutouts this season.

Holland did the honors on Sunday against the Angels with a complete game. Hunter was his equal on Wednesday night, even if he did need a little help in the end.

"Tonight, Tommy Hunter was tough," manager Ron Washington said. "He had everything going for him. I don't think you expect him to throw 7 2/3 [innings of] scoreless ball every night, but you expect him to keep us in the game. He has shown the repertoire to keep hitters off-balance, and as long as he keeps it over the plate, he has a chance to keep us close."

Hunter, who is still considered a rookie despite making three starts in the big leagues last year, is now 5-2 with a 2.26 ERA. He has only made nine starts, but that's the lowest ERA by an American League rookie starting pitcher this year with at least nine starts.

"It's the same thing he's done for us since he's got up here," catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. "He battled for six or seven innings. We went with a lot of curveballs, but that's what was working. He got ahead of a lot of hitters and stayed ahead."

Actually, Hunter also has the lowest ERA in the American League by any starting pitcher with at least nine starts this season. If Hunter also didn't pitch the rest of this season, he would end up with the second lowest single-season ERA by a Rangers starter with at least nine starts in club history.

"We will pitch him again, but thanks for those numbers," Washington said.

That appears to be a good idea for a team that is challenging for a playoff spot.

"I thought he was real good. I was very impressed by him," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "He threw his fastball where he wanted to. He worked both sides, he was down. He really worked his breaking ball early and mixed in his changeup as it wore on. We had a lot of quick outs and that was because of his command. Another thing that stuck out to me was his poise out there. He seemed very relaxed."

Hunter really had only one challenging inning, and that was the first. Grady Sizemore singled to center to start the inning and Asdrubal Cabrera reached on a bunt hit. Hunter then fell behind Shin-Soo Choo, 3-1, in the count but got him to hit a double-play grounder at second baseman Omar Vizquel.

"You just want to get him to put the ball in play," Hunter said. "So I threw a fastball low and away, and he rolled it over. I didn't want to load the bases for their No. 4 hitter."

That would be Jhonny Peralta, who popped out to end the inning. That was the only inning that Hunter allowed more than one baserunner.

Texas squandered a couple of opportunities early but broke through in the third. Josh Hamilton, whose double-play grounder in the first inning on Tuesday was a crucial play, came through this time. He faced Indians starter Fausto Carmona with the bases loaded and two out in the seventh and doubled against the left-field wall to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead.

"You give me a enough chances and I'll come through," Hamilton said with a grin.

Hamilton, who was 3-for-4 on Wednesday and is hitting .424 in his past nine games, also had a key single in the Rangers' three-run eighth. One of those runs came home on a squeeze bunt by Vizquel.

"How about that squeeze by the veteran," Washington said. "Wasn't that beautiful?"

The veteran was good. So was the rookie, maybe better than any other rookie pitcher in the league. Or his own team, which is saying something.

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