Griffin reminds Rangers what they've missed

Griffin reminds Rangers what they've missed

MINNEAPOLIS -- Right-hander A.J. Griffin stepped back into the Rangers rotation on Thursday and allowed just one run over six innings in a 4-1 victory over the Twins at Target Field.

Griffin had been sidelined with a strained left intercostal muscle and was making his first start since May 26. He allowed just two hits, walked one and struck out four to earn his first victory since May 9 against the Padres. He is 5-2 with a 5.20 ERA in nine starts overall this season.

"I mean, that was about as good as I could have hoped for," Griffin said. "It has been awhile. It was good to get back out there and mix it up."

The immediate question is if Griffin will start next Wednesday against the Mets, or if the Rangers will use Monday's off-day to skip him in the rotation. That would allow the Rangers to keep their other four starters on regular rest.

But there is a much bigger question that only Griffin can answer.

Can he stay healthy for the remainder of the season and pitch well enough to give the Rangers assurance that he deserves a spot in the rotation going into next season? For a team in desperate need of starting pitching for next season, that would be a big boost.

"That would be great, to get two completely healthy months from him," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "We need starters who are capable of doing what Griffin did tonight."

Banister on 4-1 win over Twins

It would also be a big leap of faith for the Rangers, who weren't willing to take that step with Griffin last offseason. He was 7-4 with a 5.07 ERA for the Rangers in 2016, and third on the team with 23 starts.

When Spring Training started, the veteran righty was sixth on the depth chart, behind Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish, Martin Perez, Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross. Early injuries to Cashner and Ross allowed Griffin into the rotation before the intercostal strain put him on the disabled list for the third time in two seasons.

"Nobody likes to be on the shelf or the disabled list," Griffin said. "I have put my time on that list throughout my career. You always want to go out and pitch to the best of your ability. I know I'm working for my job in the future, but I need to put blinders on and be dedicated to the task at hand."

The Rangers' hesitancy with Griffin is his lack of power. His fastball averages 87.7 mph. Darvish has a changeup and Cashner has a slider with more oomph than that. Over 32 starts and two seasons with the Rangers, he has a 5.10 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP.

Those aren't inspiring numbers, but Griffin seems to find a way to win. He is 12-6 in those 32 starts and the Rangers are 23-9 with him on the mound.

"We didn't really hit many balls hard tonight," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "It was just a matter of hitting a lot of balls in the air. He's got that fastball that doesn't register real high on the gun, but guys have trouble squaring it up. He had enough of a changeup/curveball combination to keep us guessing, too."

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.