Blackley continues meteoric three weeks

SEATTLE -- It only seems like Travis Blackley has come from nowhere into this Texas Rangers’ pennant race.

Close. He came from the Houston Astros.

Three weeks after last-place Houston designated him for assignment because it went with youth in their bullpen, the 30-year-old Australian keeps boomeranging his 2013 season.

Monday night he limited the Seattle Mariners to five hits -- only one for extra bases -- and three runs, while A.J. Pierzynski, Elvis Andrus and the Rangers’ offense did the rest in an 8-3 victory to begin a three-game series at Safeco Field.

In his second start for Texas since its Aug. 14 trade for cash considerations that look awfully shrewd now, Blackley solidified his place in the Rangers’ rotation. That’s his reward for 71 efficient pitches and keeping his new team 2½ games ahead of the Oakland Athletics in the American League West.

Asked if Blackley would take his next scheduled turn on Sunday at home against the Minnesota Twins in a No. 5 rotation spot that has been a liability for Texas for the better part of a year, manager Ron Washington almost scoffed.

“Yes,” Washington said. “I don’t know why not.”

Blackley was on a strict pitch count last week in his first start of the year: 66 pitches in four innings of a three-hit, two-run Rangers debut against his former Astros.

On Monday, he used his fastball early, his changeup often and then a curveball in the low 70-mph range -- about 5 mph slower than he usually tosses.

The thing is, the curve has been in mothballs most of this season. Blackley (2-1) said he was coming into so many situations with runners already in scoring positions with Houston that he feared skipping a bender into the dirt and scoring a run on a wild pitch against a team that couldn’t afford to give up many.

That seems like light years ago now.

“I don’t know what the Astros were thinking; I just think they wanted to try young guys,” said Blackley, who was 6-4 with a 3.86 ERA in 15 starts (24 games) with the playoff-bound A’s in 2012. “It’s a blessing in disguise. I get to play here hopefully into October … into November, hopefully.”

“It’s huge, you know?” he said. “I’d like to think I was able to help out last year with the A’s. That was good for the mental [side].

“It’s really not this hard when you’ve got this team around you. They score runs, most times. They’ve got All-Stars. I’m excited. This is a great opportunity.”

Monday he displayed different ways he can help Texas down the stretch.

The changing speeds with the curveball gives him, in essence, four pitches at four different speeds. Monday’s was more like a second, diving changeup.

The left-hander also provides the Rangers a nasty eraser for when runners do get on base. Blackley picked off Seattle rookie Brad Miller so far off first base after Miller had singled leading off the bottom of the sixth, Miller was almost halfway to second before he realized Blackley had thrown to first base and not delivered a pitch home.

Last season, Blackley was second in the AL with seven pickoffs -- despite only having a partial season in the league after Oakland claimed him off waivers from the San Francisco Giants in mid-May.

All that is more than the Rangers were bargaining for with its small price with which they picked up Blackley two weeks ago. Washington said Monday night that when the Rangers sought him it was simply to stockpile “inventory.”

“He was a starter [last year]. He was available. We thought we’d give him a shot,” Washington said.

Now, that inventory is becoming an increasingly valuable, most-unlikely asset in a push for a division title.

“Anytime with all the injuries we’ve had, especially pitching injuries, anybody gives us six quality innings, that’s a positive,” said Pierzynski, Blackley’s catcher.

“I don’t think any of you had Travis Blackley starting a game for us in August. In a pennant race.”

A.J. makes them pay

Pierzynski’s biggest contribution was drilling the first pitch he saw from Seattle starter Joe Saunders three rows into the bleachers beyond right field for a three-run home run with two outs in the seventh. That turned a 4-3 game into a 7-3 cruise.

The pitch came immediately after Saunders intentionally walked Beltre for the second time.

Texas went 2-for 3-with five RBIs Monday just after those two free passes to Beltre, who leads the AL with 50 multi-hit games and entered Monday’s tilt batting a season-high .327. Alex Rios had a two-run single in the first after the initial free pass to Beltre.

Seattle had extra reason to walk Beltre. Pierzynski, batting right after him, was 5-for-25 lifetime against Saunders before his home run.

“He made a mistake to me -- finally,” Pierzynski said. “I’d do the same thing if I was [Seattle’s manager] Eric Wedge, the way [Beltre is] swinging the bat. Makes all the sense in the world, especially with Saunders against me.

“Hopefully I can get hits and get them back to pitching to Adrian to get his hits.”

Washington sees his team’s handling of the likely pitching around Beltre as a key to this stretch drive.

“No doubt about it,” the manager said. “The way Beltre is swinging the bat, we are going to see a lot of that.”