Extra Bases: 1st-place Rangers enjoy day off

The Rangers get a much-needed day off Thursday in Houston. That after playing 20 straight days since the All-Star break.

They've gone through a lot.

They started the post-break schedule 2-8, getting swept by wild-card contenders Baltimore and Cleveland, and dropped six games behind first-place Oakland in the American League West.

Manager Ron Washington held a 40-minute team meeting the Sunday before last in Cleveland after a listless 6-0 loss to the Indians. The Rangers are 9-1 since then, with this good stretch starting with last week's three wins on walk-off home runs against the Angels.

In the last nine days, the Rangers have made up all six games on the A's and will begin Friday tied for the AL West lead with Oakland. The Rangers get four games in Houston while the A's will play Toronto.

So how have the Rangers overcome the poor start after the All-Star break and now the suspension of All-Star outfielder Nelson Cruz? They are 3-0 without him, using their running game -- 13 steals in the last two days -- to score 18 runs.

"They've got a good leader," Washington said Tuesday during his weekly radio show on Fitzsimmons & Durrett on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM. "I don't allow adversity to come into my clubhouse and destroy what these guys are capable of, and my coaching staff does a great job of keeping them focused on what they have to do.

"And that goes into what the players go out there and think. If there's panic in the leadership then there's panic in the guys to go out there and get the job done."

Up now: Rapid reaction from Wednesday's 10-3 victory over the Angels. The Rangers have run their way back into first place. Plus, the latest on Lance Berkman's rehab as he tries to get back to help the offense.

On deck: An off day in Houston.

Up next: A four-game series at Minute Maid Park. The pitching matchups: Friday, Matt Garza (1-1, 2.82) vs. Eric Bedard (3-8, 4.29); Saturday, Derek Holland (9-6. 3.02) vs. Brad Peacock (1-4, 7.25); Sunday, Martin Perez (4-3, 3.81) vs. Dallas Keuchel (5-6, 4.96); Monday, Yu Darvish (11-5, 2.72) vs. Brad Olberholtzer (2-2, 2.53).