Tepesch's debut is a memorable one

ARLINGTON, Texas -- There is no telling where Nick Tepesch's big league career is going to take him. There have been other Texas Rangers rookies before him, John Dettmer and Brian Sikorski to name two, who had major league debuts like Tepesch did Tuesday.

They combined to win five big league games. Sikorski won them all.

Dettmer went eight innings and allowed four earned runs on June 16, 1994 against Oakland at Rangers Ballpark and got a no-decision. He pitched 11 more times in the majors in 1994 and 1995, eight of them starts, and has an 0-6 career record to show for it.

So Tepesch should enjoy the suds and shaving cream he was doused with after an amazing night in which the 24-year-old from Blue Springs, Mo., allowed one run and four hits in 7 1/3 innings in a 6-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays. Let it all soak in. Baseball makes no promises.

Except you couldn't walk out of the ballpark Tuesday and not think that Tepesch has something. Forget all of the ground balls -- there were 14 of them that led to 15 outs -- and that he walked the bases loaded in the second inning and got out of it by striking out veteran second baseman Kelly Johnson on three pitches.

Listen to what two of Tepesch's teammates, with a combined 25 years of big league experience, had to say about Tepesch after he became the first Ranger to go at least 7 1/3 innings in his debut since Dettmer did it 19 years ago.

"He looked in control the whole time," catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "As the game went on, he actually got better. He got some nervous energy out, settled in and pitched a great game for us."

And how about designated hitter Lance Berkman, who got to watch Tepesch at work from the Rangers' dugout?

"He didn't seem to be nervous at all," Berkman said. "He has good control of his emotions. He showed good poise."

Tepesch needed that poise to get out of the top of the second. He walked Rays All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria to start the inning, prompting a visit to the mound from pitching coach Mike Maddux, who told Tepesch to just let things happen.

What happened is Tepesch got two ground ball outs, then walked Yunel Escobar and Jose Molina to load the bases. It was at this point he had to compose himself again. He did well, making Johnson look silly on an 0-2 curveball in the dirt. That made Tepesch feel really good.

"It was definitely a confidence boost," Tepesch said. "I felt like I made a good adjustment. Early on I was trying to make too good of pitches instead of just making quality pitches."

Tepesch had three pitches going Tuesday night: sinker, slider and curveball. He said his changeup wasn't working when he was warming up before the game and in between innings, so he used it only once.

Tepesch threw the other three pitches for strikes. He worked both sides of the plate. He pitched inside when he needed to, Pierzynski said.

"He had weapons that were all usable tonight," Pierzynski said. "As a young guy, to see that, it's encouraging."

His sinker was wicked. Tepesch was getting ground balls at a rate veteran teammate Derek Lowe, a master of the art, must have enjoyed watching. The Rays' lineup turned over for a third time in the sixth inning and Tepesch got ground-ball outs from Matt Joyce, Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria, Tampa's 2-3-4 hitters.

"I felt like I was staying over the top of it and staying through it," Tepesch said. "I just let my hand do the work."

Tepesch was poised as he came out of the game after manager Ron Washington took him out after two straight hits in the top of the eighth. He trotted off the field and didn't tip his cap. He did hear the cheers from the 31,298 in the ballpark.

"It was pretty cool," Tepesch said. "I heard it. But I just kind of put my head down and jogged in."

Tepesch was able to enjoy this moment with his parents, whom he talked to after the game. He was humble in his postgame news conference. It took a reporter to tell him it's OK to smile to get him to actually break out one. It was a proud smile.

Tepesch then went back to being all business. He's a guy with a purpose. He doesn't want to join the list of Rangers who made a triumphant debut and then disappeared.

"This is what I've been working for since I've been playing this game," Tepesch said. "There's still a lot of hard work left to go."