Cloud over Rangers could be lifting

ARLINGTON, Texas -- It was fitting, in a sense, that Mother Nature decided to spit on the Texas Rangers on Wednesday.

Few things have gone right for the American League champions the past three weeks, so why should the weather be any different?

The figurative black cloud that manager Ron Washington has talked about hovering over his team recently became a literal cloud on Wednesday. And it dumped enough water on Rangers Ballpark to force crew chief Gerry Davis to call the game off after waiting 2 hours, 14 minutes despite a 7-0 Rangers lead over the Oakland Athletics midway through the fourth inning.

"It's a tough break," Michael Young said. "We were in the fourth, so you don't know what might have happened, but obviously we felt like we were in control of that game. That's the way it goes sometimes."

The rain washed away a possible Rangers win, not to mention Mitch Moreland's first career grand slam, leaving teammates to both console and confuse him. Some players said the stats counted, joking with Moreland. But the young first baseman wasn't exactly sure. Once he found out for certain it didn't count, he was disappointed.

"It isn't fun, but at the same time that's part of it," Moreland said. "You can't control the weather and what happens. We just have to come out against the Angels on Friday and play like we have the last few days."

The off day comes at a time when the Rangers need it following 20 games in 20 days (well, about 19 1/2 games). After a 9-1 start, the Rangers have gone 10-17 and are tied for Oakland for second in the AL West. The .370 winning percentage during that span is tied for the fourth lowest in the American League.

All facets of the game are to blame. The Rangers have made too many defensive mistakes, haven't had enough clutch hits and the bullpen hasn't consistently held leads late in games.

But one thing the wet weather couldn't dampen was the thought in the clubhouse that things could be turning around. The clutch hits that were missing for most of the past three weeks showed up Tuesday night in a 7-2 win over Oakland. The Rangers showed patience, drawing six walks against an Oakland staff that doesn't issue many.

They came through with clutch hits, such as Adrian Beltre's two-out home run in the fifth to give the Rangers a four-run cushion. And Colby Lewis appears to be returning to the form that made him such a critical part of the rotation in 2010.

Washington's lineup shuffle -- inspired by Jerry, Kramer and George from "Seinfeld" -- certainly had an impact. Julio Borbon was moved to leadoff with Ian Kinsler batting third, Young fourth, Moreland fifth and Beltre sixth. That same order, with the addition of Andres Blanco in the 2-hole while Elvis Andrus had a day off, was at it again Wednesday.

The result before the rain came was an offense that finally got a chance to have a really big inning.

Maybe it was too big, allowing the storm cell to show up before the game could become official. But the Rangers brought 13 batters to the plate and scored seven runs in the third. Four of those came when Moreland turned on a breaking ball from lefty Gio Gonzalez and hit it over the wall in right-center.

Moreland came into the game hitting .222 against left-handed pitching but was having more success recently. That would have been his first homer and RBIs off a lefty this season.

Of course, those numbers won't count anymore.

Don't tell Matt Harrison, however, that the confidence boost he received in the first four innings doesn't count.

The lefty came into Wednesday's game having allowed 10 runs on 10 hits with four walks in his three previous first innings. It appeared he was in trouble again when he couldn't get his fastball over consistently and walked two of the first three hitters he faced.

That's when pitching coach Mike Maddux came to the mound and was pretty stern with his pitcher. Harrison said Maddux used to gently tell him what he needed to do, but not anymore.

"He told me I was better than that and needed to throw strikes," Harrison said. "I don't like the sweet talk. I'd rather have somebody jump my butt."

Maddux obliged, and Harrison induced two ground balls to get out of the inning unscathed. He then got all but two of the final 10 hitters he faced. And Daric Barton, who drew a two-out walk in the third, was erased trying to steal second.

"It's something to build on," Harrison said. "I've been in a funk in the first couple of innings of starts lately. I'm a slow starter and it takes time for me to get in a rhythm. I have to get there quicker and I did that. I was glad to be able to do it without giving up runs."

Harrison went out for his fourth inning with a 7-0 lead and hoping the rain would stay away long enough for him to get through five innings and get a win. It didn't happen. But between the increased offensive production and the better pitching, the Rangers are hoping that it's a sign things are turning around.

"We're definitely getting back to our style of play -- putting some runs up early, having that big inning," Moreland said. "We look more like ourselves, felt a lot better. You can kind of feel the confidence building as a team. We're looking to carry that over to Friday when the Angels come in."

Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.