ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays pitched left-hander Matt Moore against the Rangers on Thursday night, and the Rangers' lineup reflected their limitations against left-handed pitching -- exactly why they need Nelson Cruz back if they make the playoffs.
The lineup began with Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, Alex Rios and Adrian Beltre. Then came Jeff Baker at designated hitter batting fifth. Baker entered the game hitting .316 with 10 home runs in 98 at-bats against left-handers, but is limited to designated-hitter duty with a groin injury.
Geovany Soto hit sixth. He entered the game hitting .233 with a .427 slugging percentage on the season, but .182 with a .309 slugging percentage against left-handers. Craig Gentry, a .250 hitter against left-handers, batted seventh. Gentry, whose best assets are his defense and tremendous speed, also entered the game with 15 extra-base hits, 10 of them against lefties.
Joey Butler, who entered the night with only eight at-bats since being called up, batted eighth. Mitch Moreland, who batted .136 in his last 17 games, hit ninth. Moreland entered the game 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in his career against Moore.
"I just felt Mitch has a chance to run into something," manager Ron Washington said.
Baker's injury kept him from starting at first base for Moreland. But even if Baker was at first, Washington did not have another right-handed alternative for designated hitter other than utility infielder Adam Rosales. Jurickson Profar and Lance Berkman are switch-hitters, but aren't being used against right-handers.
Washington said his other alternative for designated hitter was A.J. Pierzynski, who is a left-handed hitter. Pierzynski is hitting .282 against lefties. But Moore held left-handed hitters to a .218 average before Thursday's finale.
Cruz is working out in the Rangers instructional league program while serving his 50-game suspension for violation of Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment policy. He was 0-for-3 with a walk in an instructional league game on Wednesday.
The Rangers will see a run of four straight right-handed pitchers starting Friday, but four of their final six games could be against left-handed starters.
Ross' role decreases after stellar start to season
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rangers used six relievers in Wednesday's 4-3 loss to the Rays. Left-hander Robbie Ross was not one of them. Ross began the season one of the Rangers' primary late-inning left-handed relievers, but that is no longer the case.
He had a 0.37 ERA at the end of May, the lowest among any American League reliever, but has a 5.40 ERA in 37 outings since, while opponents are hitting .299 off him.
"It has obviously not been what I want it to be," Ross said. "It's been a good learning experience, because I've been struggling a little bit. Obviously it's been a hiccup in the road and I'm trying to figure it all out. I haven't had much adversity through my career. This year has been a tough lesson but I'm working through it and going to get better because of it."
Because Ross has been struggling, manager Ron Washington went with left-hander Joseph Ortiz in the 12th inning Wednesday night. Ortiz, who threw two scoreless innings Monday against the Rays, ended up taking the loss on Desmond Jennings' game-winning single.
"Obviously we're all out there wanting to win," Ross said. "I've gone through some stuff, and in those situations lately, I have not been great. Why not Ortiz? He's a good pitcher. He just didn't get it done. It happens."
Washington said his main concern with Ross has been the location and execution of his pitches.
"When I think there is a situation out there for him, I'll put him out there," Washington said.
Soria's focus remains on Rangers, not KC homecoming
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rangers open a three-game series with the Royals on Friday at Kauffman Stadium. It will be reliever Joakim Soria's first trip to Kansas City since signing with the Rangers as a free agent in the offseason.
"I don't think about it that much," Soria said. "I'm thinking about helping this team. Of course it's a pleasure to go to Kansas City. They gave me a chance to be a Major League pitcher. I'm grateful for that. But right now, that's not what I'm focused on."
Soria was selected by the Royals in the 2006 Rule 5 Draft. Soria had never pitched before in the big leagues, but ended up the Royals' closer from 2007-11. He was a two-time All-Star and had 160 saves over five years before missing all of 2012 because of Tommy John surgery.
The Rangers signed him to a two-year contract in the offseason. He didn't make his Rangers debut until July 7, but he enters Thursday's finale against the Rays with a 3.10 ERA in 22 games, while opponents are hitting .208 off him.
"It seems like the more we can give him the ball, the better he gets," manager Ron Washington said. "He's starting to show his experience, and I'm really seeing him getting his competitive juices flowing. We know he can get outs, and that's what I'm seeing."
Washington said he still doesn't see Soria being back to the level when he was an All-Star closer for the Royals. Washington said Soria needs more "consistent execution" with his pitches.
"This guy doesn't throw many pitches when he's right," Washington said. "He's throwing a lot of pitches. He's still getting outs, but throwing a lot of pitches. This guy was a strike thrower. He's getting his feel back."
Washington maintains faith in Profar at second base
ST. PETERSBURG -- Manager Ron Washington wasn't happy the Rangers failed to turn a double play in the sixth inning of Wednesday's 4-3 loss to the Rays. Second baseman Jurickson Profar's throw was off the mark, and Delmon Young was safe at first with two outs. Sean Rodriguez followed with a two-run, game-tying home run.
Washington said Thursday he still has confidence in Profar's ability to play second base. Profar started at second on Wednesday because Washington wanted Ian Kinsler to get a day off in the field as designated hitter. Kinsler was back at second on Thursday.
"I didn't think it was a youthful mistake, it was just a mistake," Washington said. "Any second baseman could have done the same thing. We needed it turned and we didn't turn it. I put him out there because I trust him. I've seen him turn double plays with people on top of him. I've seen him turn double plays in all situations. We just didn't turn it.
"He wasn't overwhelmed by the moment. It was just a mistake he made."
• Wednesday marked only the sixth time in closer Joe Nathan's career he blew a save after retiring the first two batters of an inning. It was also only the second time he has blown a save in extra innings. The other was on May 26 against the Mariners.
• Rays manager Joe Maddon on rookie right fielder Wil Myers, who wasn't aggressive enough on Beltre's 11th-inning single Wednesday, allowing Andrus to score from first base: "I'm not one that talks about rookie mistakes, because anyone can make them, but that's a play right there where if you know the league and you know the player, you know you have to get it back in quickly. Period. Had he gotten to the ball quicker and thrown it in quicker, there's no way Andrus could have scored on that play. That's a lesson learned."
• Washington said all of his bullpen was available for Thursday's game, including Nathan. Said Washington, "If we get in a position where we have a chance to put it away, the guys we have been using all year will be out there. I don't think anybody is concerned about getting rest now."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.