- The Washington Times - Monday, July 17, 2006

BALTIMORE — The Texas Rangers gave Rodrigo Lopez a justifiable nod for his fine performance, then wondered aloud why they had so much trouble hitting against a pitcher who started the game with 10 losses and a 6.77 ERA.

Miguel Tejada and Nick Markakis homered, Melvin Mora had three hits, and Lopez led a strong pitching performance that carried the Baltimore Orioles past the suddenly punchless Rangers 4-0 yesterday.

Lopez and three relievers limited the Rangers to five singles. Texas has gone 23 straight innings without scoring an earned run and went consecutive games without an extra-base hit for the first time since August 2000.

“We just didn’t swing the bats well today,” Rangers manager Buck Showalter said. “You have to give Lopez credit. We got down early and really didn’t grind him like we need to.”

Tejada’s two-run homer in the first inning gave the Orioles all the offense they needed to salvage a split of the four-game series. The Rangers won 15-1 on Thursday, then beat the Orioles 2-1 on Friday before losing 8-1 on Saturday.

“You always have to give credit where credit is due. They pitched well,” said Texas All-Star shortstop Michael Young, who went 2-for-16 in the series. “We just didn’t get it done. We have to find ways to score runs.”

The loss dropped the Rangers into second place in the American League West, one game behind Oakland, which beat Boston 8-1 yesterday.

Losing to Baltimore ace Erik Bedard on Saturday was understandable, since Bedard has won six straight starts. But Lopez had given up 17 runs in his last three starts and had permitted fewer than six hits in only two of his previous 19 appearances.

Yesterday, Lopez (6-10) gave up five hits and a walk in 52/3 innings, allowing only two runners past first base.

“He’s struggled. Today he didn’t. That’s frustrating,” Showalter said. “You’d like to give [him] credit. Still, you’d like to see us build more into the game offensively. … We tried to play catch up with one swing.”

Lopez hoped his performance would serve as the first step in a solid second half.

“Whatever happened in the past, I try to leave behind,” he said. “Over the break, I tried relaxing. Forget about everything. I came back here like any other day and tried to do what I love to do, pitch and help my team win.”

After Lopez left, Kurt Birkins retired all four batters he faced and Todd Williams worked a perfect eighth before Chris Ray got three straight outs.

Gary Matthews Jr. had two hits for the Rangers, whose only run since the fourth inning of Friday night’s came courtesy of a Baltimore error.

“One thing we might have to do is take a step back. Just relax a little bit more, have a little more fun up there,” Young said. “I think that way we’ll develop a little more of a rhythm, be more consistent.”

Tejada’s 18th home run, a drive to left off John Wasdin (2-2), came after Mora singled with two outs in the first.

The Rangers mounted their initial threat in the fourth, using a walk and a single by Hank Blalock to put runners on first and second with two outs before Lopez retired Ian Kinsler on a grounder to short.

Baltimore went up 4-0 in the fifth. Markakis led off with his third homer, his first since April 14, a drive to right that came immediately after the rookie pulled Wasdin’s first pitch a few feet outside the foul pole.

The first pitch was a changeup, the second a fastball.

“I was sitting on a fastball, he put one in the middle and I put a good swing on it,” Markakis said.

Brian Roberts followed with a single. He stopped short while running to second on a botched hit-and-run, but the throw from catcher Rod Barajas skipped into center field. That allowed Roberts to take the base, and Mora hit an RBI single to end Wasdin’s afternoon.

Lopez gave up singles to Matthews and Young in the sixth, then retired Mark Teixeira on a deep fly to center before Birkins got Blalock on a grounder to end the inning.

Notes — Baltimore’s Corey Patterson ended a 4-for-31 skid with a second-inning single. … Teixeira is 2-for-14 lifetime against Lopez; Matthews is 6-for-11 against the right-hander. … Texas made three errors, including two by Barajas on poor throws to second on attempted steals. … Young snapped an 0-for-11 run with his single in the sixth.

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