MLB: Strikeouts could mount as Rays oppose Rangers

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Two pitchers coming off impressive, strikeout-laden starts will square off in Arlington, Texas, on Saturday afternoon when the Tampa Bay Rays face the Texas Rangers.

Right-hander Taj Bradley (3-4, 3.42 ERA), who struck out a career-high-tying 11 batters over 5 2/3 innings Sunday in a 5-0 victory over the Washington Nationals, will start for the Rays.

Left-hander Andrew Heaney (3-9, 4.04 ERA), who had a season-best 10 strikeouts while allowing two runs over seven innings in an 11-2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday, gets the nod for the Rangers.

Here’s the kicker: The two pitchers are a combined 0-7 against their opponent in their careers.

Bradley is 0-2 with a 6.23 ERA in two career starts against Texas, both occurring last year.

Heaney is 0-5 with a 3.68 ERA in seven career starts against the Rays. He faced Tampa Bay on April 2, and he took a loss after yielding three runs (one earned) on four hits in 4 2/3 innings. He struck out seven without issuing a walk.

Bradley, who mixes a high-90s fastball with a nasty splitter, has been on a roll in his past five starts, compiling a 1.24 ERA while allowing just 18 hits over 29 innings. He logged a pair of 11-strikeout games in that span.

“He’s doing some special things for us,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “This is what the best pitchers in the game do is they find a way to stay consistent at an elite level. I think Taj is pushing the envelope really well towards that.”

Teammate Zack Littell, scheduled to start the Sunday series finale for Tampa Bay, told MLB.com, “He’s got some of the best stuff, I would say, in the league. It all comes down to just him recognizing on his best days, and even on his worst day, he’s going to be able to go out and get anybody out. And it just comes with experience.”

Texas comes in off a 3-0 victory in the series opener on Friday. Michael Lorenzen allowed one hit over five innings and Kirby Yates struck out two of the three batters he faced during a 1-2-3 ninth to notch his 12th save.

It was the ninth shutout thrown by the Rangers this season and the fourth in the team’s past six home contests.

Corey Seager highlighted a three-run third inning with a line-drive, two-run double into the left-center-field gap that rolled to the wall and drove in Jonathan Ornelas and Marcus Semien, who had both singled. Nathaniel Lowe then singled home Seager.

“It’s good to get the early lead,” Texas manager Bruce Bochy said. “Had some good at-bats. I’ll say this: We faced some good stuff (Friday) and came around again and the at-bats got better, had some big hits there with runners in scoring position. That’s what it takes.”

Tampa Bay, which has won its past five series, finished with just three hits, including a ground-rule double by Brandon Lowe in the fourth. However, the Rays did finish with eight walks, including three by Richie Palacios.

“I really thought we had a ton of good at-bats,” Cash said. “Sometimes you’re not going to get a ton of hits, but (eight) walks, those are like hits as well. Didn’t get that big hit. They made some big pitches when they really needed to.”

–Field Level Media

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