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To parlay hot streak into playoff bid, Rangers need more from Cole Hamels

ARLINGTON, Texas -- If you let the box score tell the story, Cole Hamels turned in a quality start on Monday night against the Seattle Mariners at Globe Life Park.

If you watched the game, then you realize that's not true. It was much closer to average.

Sure, Hamels allowed only three runs in seven innings, which technically qualifies as a quality start. But he walked four and twice blew leads.

And if not for a sensational play by right fielder Shin-Soo Choo to throw out Seattle's Logan Morrison at home plate for the final out of the seventh inning, then the Texas Rangers would have trailed for the first time.

Instead, Adrian Beltre's flawless defense throughout the game and his three RBIs, including a walk with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, helped the Rangers win their fifth straight game.

Texas 4, Seattle 3.

The Rangers need more from Hamels; they expect more from the 31-year-old, three-time All-Star. And they must receive more from Hamels if they're going to complete this improbable journey to the playoffs.

Six weeks remain and the Rangers, the American League's hottest team, are in the middle of the playoff race, despite Yu Darvish having missed the entire season and Derek Holland having pitched one inning.

Jon Daniels acquired Hamels and reliever Jake Diekman for six prospects last month. At the time, the Rangers were 50-52 and seven games out of first place in the AL West. Still, Daniels believed the club had at least one more quality stretch of baseball in them, so he made the deal as much for this year as the future, since Hamels has three years left on his deal.

Daniels acquired Hamels to pitch in games like Monday night's contest. The Rangers had won four in a row and moved within one game of the second wild-card spot.

They needed him to pitch well and continue the momentum that has allowed the surging Rangers to pull within three games of the first-place Houston Astros. Texas trails the Baltimore Orioles by one game for that second wild-card nod.

Hamels, 0-1 with a 5.23 ERA in three starts with the Rangers, missed his previous start with a tight groin.

On Monday, he blew leads of 2-0 and 3-2 but kept Seattle from scoring more than one run in any inning, in part, because he kept the ball in the park.

Hamels had allowed five homers in his first two starts, while allowing more than one run in three different innings.

"Being able to go out there and pitch and make quality pitches is something that I haven't been able to do here for the past couple weeks, and that's something I definitely have to work on," Hamels said. "You have to really give credit to Choo and some of the defensive plays, because they definitely kept us in the ballgame."

The Rangers turned two double plays behind Hamels, and Beltre made several excellent plays, including fielding a bunt and making a strong throw to Elvis Andrus, who was covering third for a key out in the fifth.

"No matter what kind of condition I have or what I'm going through, I have to be able to go out there and put up zeros on the board," Hamels said. "The expectations that I have are to be able to burn innings, make quality pitches and work quick enough so the defense is able to stay in the game and make great plays."

With about six weeks left in the season, the Rangers' rotation is shaping up nicely. In the past month, Texas has added Hamels and Martin Perez, who missed much of last season after having Tommy John surgery.

Perez is 1-2 with a 5.29 ERA in six starts, but he has pitched at least six innings each in his past three starts. On Wednesday, Holland will make his first start since leaving the home opener with a stiff shoulder following the first inning.

Add those three to Yovani Gallardo and Colby Lewis, and the Rangers have a rotation that should keep them in the playoff hunt.

"In spring training, we didn't envision having Hamels," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "Getting Derek back will be key for us, because he can be special for us. If he can get on a roll, we really like where the rotation can take us."

Especially if Hamels starts pitching to his pedigree.