Rangers’ wild-card lead shortens
SEATTLE (AP) — Nelson Cruz doesn’t concern himself with the number of home runs he hits. Instead, he counts what they can do to help his team win games.
Cruz reached 40 home runs for the second straight season, Felix Hernandez pitched three-hit ball for eight innings and the Seattle Mariners downed the Texas Rangers 5-0 Thursday.
“Numbers are numbers. I like to just focus on games,” said Cruz, who signed a four-year free agent contract during the offseason. “What I like to do is help my team win games. They (homers) are going to come. At end of the season, you have time to realize what you did.”
The Rangers were shut out for the second straight day. Their lead for the second AL wild-card spot was cut to one game over idle Minnesota.
Texas missed a chance to gain on AL West-leading Houston and fell 2 1/2 games behind the idle Astros.
Cruz missed the previous six games because of a strained right quadriceps. He matched his career high for homers set last season with Baltimore, connecting for a two-run shot in a three-run seventh.
Hernandez (17-8) struck out eight and walked four. He tied Houston’s Dallas Keuchel for the most victories in the AL.
“I had good mechanics today,” said Hernandez, who was given an extra day of rest between starts. “My fastball was good, my sinker was down. My changeup was down. Before it was not moving at all. Now it’s down.”
Mitch Moreland, who had two hits for Texas, said Hernandez “was on his game. When he is like that it is going to be tough.”
“He had everything working for him,” he said. “He was getting ahead, keeping the balls down, throwing every pitch for strikes. His off-speed was on. One of those days it’s tough to stand in the box and battle with him when he is on like that.”
Derek Holland (3-2) worked seven innings, allowing all five runs and nine hits.
“I felt like I did a good job,” Holland said, “all the way until the last inning. I attacked the zone. The home run pitch to Cruz just came in across the plate. I thought I did a pretty good job of battling with Felix, but he had us under control.”
The Rangers were blanked in back-to-back games for the first time since July 2013 at Cleveland. They have been shut out four times on their 10-game road trip.
Cruz became the fourth different Mariners player to hit at least 40 home runs in a season. Ken Griffey Jr. did it six times and Alex Rodriguez and Jay Buhner had three each. Rodriguez was the last to do it with 41 in 2000.
It was Cruz’s 14th home run this year at Safeco Field, the most in a season at the ballpark since Jose Lopez in 2008.
Mark Trumbo’s two-run homer in the first extended his hitting streak to a career-high 12 games. He’s batting .375 with five home runs and 11 RBI during the string.
•Rangers: Slugger Josh Hamilton will have arthroscopic surgery on his ailing left knee Friday. The team is hopeful he can return before the end of the season.
• Mariners: LHP James Paxton, on the DL since May 29 with a strained left middle finger, threw a bullpen session Thursday morning. If he feels OK Friday, he will start Sunday, his first since May 28. … OF Franklin Gutierrez (strained right groin) missed his sixth straight game.
•Rangers: RHP Colby Lewis (14-8, 4.68 ERA) will make his fourth attempt at a career-best 15th victory, at home against Oakland. He has struggled his past three starts, going 0-3 with a 8.62 ERA. He is 9-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 25 career starts against the A’s, his most wins against any opponent.
• Mariners: RHP Hisashi Iwakuma (7-3, 4.03 ERA) is 5-1 with a 2.98 ERA over his last seven starts, including a no-hitter Aug. 12 against Baltimore. He has never faced Colorado.
SETTING UP FOR HOUSTON
The Rangers are adjusting their rotation, pushing LHP Cole Hamels back one day to open up the crucial four-game home series with Houston that begins Monday. “That’s the way we wanted it,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. “That’s why we got him (in a July 31 trade with Philadelphia).” Minor league prospect Chi Chi Gonzalez will take Hamels’ scheduled start Sunday against Oakland.
Steven Baron made his big league catching debut for the Mariners on Wednesday. He became the first Seattle catcher to call a shutout in his debut.