ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Yu Darvish brought the heat to win for the first time in eight starts and the Texas Rangers squeezed out a series-clinching victory.
Relying heavily on his fastball, primarily a four-seamer, Darvish struck out eight in 6 2-3 scoreless innings and the Rangers scored twice on a squeeze bunt in a 3-2 victory over Mat Latos and the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday.
“His performance was good. He was going against another good one, and they matched zeroes,” manager Ron Washington said. “Once we put the runs on the board, Darvish did what we needed him to do. Looked like the same Darvish to me.”
The Rangers finally scored against Latos (7-2) in the fifth when Elvis Andrus bunted. Latos made a barehanded grab and scoop in one motion. The toss home hit the earflap of Engel Beltre, who was still on the ground when Leonys Martin also scored for a 2-0 lead.
“It was just a reaction. He bunted it pretty hard. I felt I could make a play,” Latos said. ” As I look back, I should have held on to the ball.”
Darvish (8-3) won for the first time since May 16, ending his longest professional winless drought — in his two years with the Rangers or seven in Japan before that. The right-hander was 0-2 with a 2.93 ERA in those seven games, when Texas scored only 12 runs while he was on the mound.
“As a starter, if the team doesn’t win the day that you pitch, that can be really frustrated, so that was my thing,” Darvish said through his translator, though he insisted later he wasn’t overwhelmed by the winless streak. “I was thinking how I could live day by day, and nothing really special.”
The AL West-leading Rangers have won 10 of 13 games since a six-game losing streak. Cincinnati has lost seven of nine.
Darvish threw 77 of 117 pitches for strikes on a sunny afternoon when the game-time temperature was 90 degrees— 10 degrees cooler than at the start of Friday night’s series opener. While increasing his majors-best strikeout total to 151, he walked four and scattered four hits with only one 1-2-3 inning.
There was an 11-pitch at-bat in the first inning against Brandon Phillips, who didn’t get a breaking ball while at the plate. The first ball didn’t come until the ninth pitch, and he eventually struck out to end the inning.
That set a tone for what Darvish was trying to do.
“I just wanted to shut all the people up that were talking about my fastballs,” Darvish said.
“I love when he throws more fastballs,” shortstop Andrus said. “I think that he gets a little tougher. That’s when his slider works way better too. He did a great job of keeping us in the game. … When you’ve got your ace out there, you always want to win and score some runs early so he can feel better.”
Joe Nathan, the fifth Texas reliever, pitched a perfect ninth for his 27th save in 28 chances.
Latos, 21-6 in his 50 career starts for the Reds, struck out nine and walked two in 6 2-3 innings. He gave up three runs, two of them earned.
Beltre led off the fifth by dragging a bunt past the mound for a hit before Martin’s hustling double. Martin extended his hitting streak to 14 games, matching the longest by a Rangers player this season, on the hit to right-center when he slid inside of second base and reached back to grab it while avoiding the tag.
When sliding into home, Beltre couldn’t steer clear of the ball that ricocheted off his head, nor could he avoid the hard collision with catcher Devin Mesoraco trying to block the plate.
“I figured Andrus would be aggressive so I called for a first-pitch slider. To his credit, he got the bunt down,” Mesoraco said. “With the speed they had on the bases, it didn’t have to be a perfect bunt.”
Martin scored and Andrus wound up at second before trainer Jamie Reed and Washington were able to check on Beltre, who got up and walked back to the dugout a couple of minutes later and stayed in the game.
Martin led off the seventh with a single, stole second and scored on a bloop single by Nelson Cruz.
Robbie Ross got the last out of the seventh after taking over for Darvish. Tanner Scheppers made his team-high 39th appearance, after three days off, and threw only two of his nine pitches for strikes.
Scheppers walked Zack Cozart on four pitches in the eighth and gave up consecutive singles to Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips before going to a 2-0 count against Jay Bruce — and being relieved by Neal Cotts. Jay Bruce and pinch-hitter Chris Heisey had consecutive sacrifice flies.
NOTES: The Rangers are off Monday, their only off day this season that will come in the middle of a homestand. … Texas finished June at 14-14. … Cincinnati has played twice at Rangers Ballpark. The Reds also lost two of three games in 2002. … The Reds sixth ended when first baseman Mitch Moreland backhanded Xavier Paul’s grounder and threw to second to start a double play. Moreland hustled back to take the relay throw at first when Darvish wasn’t yet at the bag.