TEX@HOU: Cruz launches a mammoth shot to deep left

HOUSTON -- Outfielder Nelson Cruz and second baseman Ian Kinsler were out of the starting lineup on Sunday. That was a first for Cruz this season as he had started all 36 games before Sunday, although one of them was at designated hitter.

The day off comes after Cruz had hit game-tying home runs in the sixth inning on both Friday and Saturday night. But he also has just seven hits in his last 44 at-bats to drop his batting average to a season-low .269.

"I had planned on giving two guys off, and Cruz was always going to be one of them," manager Ron Washington said. "I had planned on this being a day off for him at the beginning of the road trip."

Kinsler was 1-for-5 on Saturday, but is also hitting .366 in his last 16 games. That's raised his batting average to .322, 13th highest in the league entering Sunday. He is also tied for the fifth most hits.

This is only the second time Kinsler has been out of the lineup, and Leury Garcia got the start at second base. With Cruz out, Craig Gentry was in the lineup with a right-hander on the mound. Gentry was in center, with Leonys Martin -- his usual platoon partner -- getting his first start in right field.

"Gentry is my better center fielder, so I'm leaving him in center," Washington said.

Gentry also batted in the sixth spot for the first time in his career. Garcia was batting in the second spot behind leadoff hitter Elvis Andrus.

"I can use him up there to do a lot of things in that spot, like bunt and hit-and-run," Washington said.

Rangers sport pink for good cause

Kirkman family looks forward to Mother's Day 2013

HOUSTON -- The Rangers added pink trimmings to their usually blue-and-red uniforms on Sunday. Hitters were wielding pink bats, pitchers were wearing pink sweat bands and injured catcher A.J. Pierzynski was passing out pink sunglasses to teammates.

It seemed to help as the Rangers reached a season high for runs in a 12-7 win over the Astros. Texas had six batters use a pink bat for at least one at-bat on the afternoon. Craig Gentry used it every time he came to the plate.

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"The whole day is based on supporting our mothers," Gentry said. "I'm not superstitious. It was the same model I have been using all year, so why not use it every at-bat? I love my mama."

The pink motif is part of Major League Baseball's annual Mother's Day efforts to raise awareness for breast cancer. The Rangers certainly don't have any problems using pink gear, because they entered Sunday's game having won three of their last four on Mother's Day.

"I think Major League Baseball does a great job of celebrating Mother's Day," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "We get to use the pink bats as well. Obviously it's celebrating Mother's Day, but also a great cause of breast cancer awareness. I think everybody understands the importance of it. Speaking for myself, I enjoy it and I'm sure a lot of guys do."

Murphy in lineup despite lingering back soreness

TEX@HOU: Murphy injures himself hitting the wall

HOUSTON -- David Murphy was in the Rangers' lineup on Sunday afternoon despite dealing with a sore back after hitting the left-field wall in the eighth inning on Saturday night. Murphy banged into the wall chasing Robbie Grossman's double. He stayed in the game, but had some soreness the morning after.

"It's tight," Murphy said. "The toughest thing is twisting ... swinging the bat. I doesn't feel good, but guys are always dealing with bumps and bruises."

The injury comes at a time when Murphy is beginning to come around at the plate. He took a modest six-game hitting streak into Sunday's game, with six hits in his last 16 at-bats, raising his average 30 points to .198, The Rangers are also beginning a stretch where they will be facing at least eight straight right-handed starting pitchers unless injury or weather forces teams to change set rotations.

This is a chance for Murphy to play regularly. He has been platooning with Jeff Baker in left field, and the Rangers just finished a stretch where they faced 11 left-handed starters over 18 games.

"Things are starting to click a little bit," Murphy said. "It's a matter of getting the feel back. It's all about regaining the feel and not necessarily by playing every day. It's cage work and working hard in batting practice and translating it to the game. The last few days I've done that and I need to continue."

 

Deep bench producing more pinch-hits

TEX@HOU: Martin triples home two runs in the sixth

HOUSTON -- Leonys Martin had a triple as a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning of Saturday's 8-7 victory over the Rangers and is 4-for-11 as a pinch-hitter this season. The four hits are the most in the American League and equal Mitch Moreland's total in 2012 when he led the team in that department.

The club season record for hits by a pinch-hitter is 12, set by Bill Stein in 1982 and tied by Kevin Reimer in 1990. The most since 2001 is seven by Frank Catalanotto in 2008.

David Murphy also had a double as a pinch-hitter in sixth inning. Two extra-base hits in the same inning by pinch-hitters is rare for the Rangers, considering they entered the game with 13 extra-base hits from their pinch-hitters since 2009, tied for the fewest in the league.

Rangers pinch-hitters are 6-for-27, giving them a .222 batting average. That isn't particularly outstanding, but it is an improvement over the past four seasons. From 2009-2012, Texas pinch-hitters batted a combined .182, the lowest in the American League. Their .119 average in 2009 was the 10th lowest by an AL team since 1974.

Manager Ron Washington said the improved pinch-hitting is the result of a better bench and the platoon he has been using with Murphy and Jeff Baker in left and Martin and Craig Gentry in center.

"I have a better selection, and the way I have to play those guys, it gives them more time to get ready," Washington said. "Their preparation is better."

Worth noting

•: Pierzynski, on the disabled list with a strained oblique muscle in his right ribcage, resumed throwing on Sunday and is planning to start hitting off a tee on Monday. He is hoping to resume batting practice when the Rangers return to Arlington on Thursday. He is eligible to come off the disabled list on May 21, although there is much to be done before that happens. Pierzynski could also get a couple of games on medical rehabilitation assignment.

• Joe Nathan has 309 career saves. His next one will tie Hall of Famer Rich "Goose" Gossage for 19th all-time. Nathan has been successful on 11 straight save opportunities to start the season. His best streak to start the season was 13 straight in 2008 with the Twins.

• The Rangers have started the season by being successful on 12 straight save opportunities. That's their best start since 15 straight in 1998, when John Wetteland was their closer.

• Yu Darvish, after beating the Astros on Saturday, has 22 wins since the start of the 2012 season, the most by any American League pitcher.