BALTIMORE -- Rangers closer Joe Nathan had a couple of rough outings early in the season but went into Monday's game against the Orioles having not allowed a run in his last eight games. He was also 7-for-8 in save opportunities.Nathan's success is in direct contrast to 14 other teams who have had to change closers either in Spring Training or once the season started. Mariano Rivera, Drew Storen, Huston Street, Brian Wilson, Joakim Soria, Andrew Bailey and Ryan Madson are among the closers who are on the disabled list. Carlos Marmol, Heath Bell and Jordan Walden are among those who have been taken out of the role because of ineffectiveness. "Every season, we see volatility in the closer's role, but this season seems unprecedented with the turnover, what with the injuries and then the carousel," Rangers assistant general manager Thad Levine said. "We certainly consider ourselves fortunate that we have someone we can count on to get us the last three outs in a game." Nathan was one of several closers available this offseason, either by trade or free agency. He was one the Rangers targeted from the beginning, as they steered away from Madson, Bell and Jonathan Papelbon, showing little interest in them. "We bought into the track record and bought into the makeup," Levine said of Nathan. "Joe, in the period of time he was a closer, has been one of the most dominant closers in the game, and our research showed his makeup was a big part of that." Pitching the ninth inning as the closer has proven to be physically demanding. But it can also be mentally demanding, and Nathan has proven he can deal with that part of it. "It could be mentally tough if you let it," Nathan said. "It all depends on the person and the makeup. It can be if you put more pressure on yourself than you need. The only difference is you are the last line of defense. It's the ninth inning and the game is either going to be won or lost, and most of the time they're not going to take you out of there until one or the other happens. "You have to keep it simple. Don't think it's all on your shoulders. There are nine innings. It's just one inning, and you have to put up a zero like the other guys in front of you. It's not any different."
Beltre returns, but as designated hitter
BALTIMORE -- Adrian Beltre was back in the starting lineup for the first time in six games as the Rangers' designated hitter on Monday night against the Orioles. Beltre has been bothered by a sore left hamstring and had been available only as a pinch-hitter for the past week. He is still not ready to return to the field yet, even though manager Ron Washington said Beltre was moving well on the field in pregame workouts."I want to make sure, so we'll start him at DH and then we'll see," Washington said. "The first day back, I want to make sure everything is fine. I want him back on the field as much as anybody, but he's just not ready." The Rangers, going into Monday, had lost four of their last five games without Beltre in the lineup. He said he will play cautiously until he regains confidence in his physical condition. "It's good enough to play," Beltre said. "I have to be smart, not try to stretch a single into a double or score on a close play. Just go station-to-station. It's tough, because I'm not good enough to be in the lineup and not bad enough to go on the DL. It's not easy being on the bench." Brandon Snyder started at third base on Monday because Washington wanted his right-handed bat against Orioles left-hander Brian Matusz. It was Snyder's fifth start this season and his first one at third base. The start also gave Snyder a chance to play against the Orioles, the organization he was a part of for seven seasons before being acquired by the Rangers this past offseason. "It's obviously a cool situation, but I don't want to put too much into it," said Snyder, who was the Orioles' first-round Draft pick in 2005. "It's another game; I just want to help us get back on track and get another win."
Rangers stick with Cruz in spite of funk
BALTIMORE -- Nelson Cruz was in right field on Monday for the 29th straight game. He remains the only Rangers player who has started every game in the field this season and entered the four-game series against the Orioles with a career .361 batting average against Baltimore. That's the seventh-highest mark for one player with at least 100 at-bats against the O's since they moved to Baltimore in 1954.He also went into Monday's game in a 2-for-22 slump and batting .151 in his last 14 games. Cruz's last home run was on April 17 in Boston. But with Adrian Beltre and Josh Hamilton both missing time in the past week because of injuries, manager Ron Washington has been reluctant to pull Cruz from the lineup. "We're just going to keep working and sending him out there," Washington said. "He's one of our horses -- we have to keep saddling him up and riding him out there until it falls into place. Even though he's struggling, it could change with one swing of the bat. He's one of the guys we're depending on, so we've got to wait on him."
Cruz rewarded Washington's patience in the series opener at Baltimore, recording two singles and a double in his first four times to the plate.Before the game, Washington admitted that he may have to sit Cruz for a game if he doesn't start to heat up. "I've got to think about it, but with Beltre missing days and Hamilton missing days, I just can't snatch that bat out of the lineup," Washington said. "I'm going to give him time off; I just don't know when."
Back in Baltimore, Uehara at top of his game
BALTIMORE -- Rangers reliever Koji Uehara, who was acquired from the Orioles last July 30, still has his family living in Baltimore. He was able to see them and some old friends in the O's organization when the Rangers arrived in Baltimore.Uehara also returned home pitching well. Going into Monday's game, the right-hander had retired 15 straight hitters over his last five outings, and going back to last year, he had made a club-record 27 consecutive appearances without issuing a walk. Uehara had a 2.00 ERA in his first nine appearances this season after posting a 4.00 ERA in 22 appearances for the Rangers in the final two months of last season. "The most important thing to me is not giving up runs," Uehara said. Manager Ron Washington said Uehara's fastball has more life on it than it did last season after the trade, and his split-fingered fastball has more "bite." Uehara has also developed a slider that gives him a third pitch, one that breaks sideways rather than just up and down, like the fastball and splitter.
Infielder Chris Davis, who was dealt by the Rangers to Baltimore with Tommy Hunter in last year's Uehara trade, pitched two scoreless innings for the O's on Sunday against the Red Sox in an emergency situation, earning the win in a 9-6 victory that took 17 innings. Washington said he once considered using Davis as a pitcher in a game when the slugger was with the Rangers but decided against it at the last minute and used a traditional reliever instead. Washington is adamantly opposed to using position players as pitchers but said he would consider Mitch Moreland if he absolutely had to do it. Moreland pitched in college at Mississippi State. On Monday, Levine presented 2011 American League championship rings to five former Rangers who are now with the Orioles: Davis, Hunter, Pedro Strop, Darren O'Day and Endy Chavez. Infielder Yangervis Solarte has an 18-game hitting streak at Triple-A Round Rock, and Jurickson Profar has a 17-game streak at Double-A Frisco.
Class A Advanced right-hander Cody Buckel was named the Carolina League's Pitcher of the Week on Monday. It's the second time he has won the honor this season while pitching for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.