Tepesch shuts down Rays in big league debut

Tepesch shuts down Rays in big league debut

ARLINGTON -- Nick Tepesch made a smashing Major League debut Tuesday, featuring an excellent sinker and complementing it with both a good curveball and slider.

Tepesch kept the ball down, changed speeds, used both sides of the plate and generally did all the neat things that pitchers do when turning in this kind of performance. But that's not what had everybody impressed after Tepesch pitched the Rangers to a 6-1 victory over the Rays at the Ballpark in Arlington.

"The biggest thing was his composure and the way he went about it," catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "He looked in control the whole time."

"He didn't seem to be nervous," designated hitter Lance Berkman said. "I know he was, but he had good control of his emotions and a lot of poise. It was everything you'd like to see in a young guy."

That was the consensus from both clubhouses after Tepesch held the Rays to one run in 7 1/3 innings. He allowed just four hits, walked three and struck out five while throwing 104 pitches. Of the 22 outs he recorded, 15 were off of ground balls.

"You know ... for his first big league start, I was impressed," Rays infielder Ben Zobrist said. "I thought he did a great job of keeping any emotions he might have had in check, and I thought he did a phenomenal job of just moving the ball around and keeping it on the corners. And mixing speeds and throwing strikes. And he was successful."

Tepesch, a 14th-round Draft pick out of the University of Missouri in 2010, became the 14th pitcher in Rangers history to win a start in his Major League debut. Tepesch is also only the second Rangers Draft pick since Steve Dreyer in 1993 to win as a starter in his Major League debut. Justin Grimm, another 2010 Draft pick, did so last season. The last Texas starter to pitch at least seven innings in his big league debut was Brian Sikorski on Aug. 16, 2000, against the Yankees.

"Very composed," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Good command of his offspeed pitches. Can be equally difficult on a left-handed hitter with the way the curveball, slider, cutter -- whatever he wants to call it. He looks very comfortable throwing to left-handed hitters. That's what I got from watching today. Mixed it up well, threw strikes, he was good."

When it was over and Tepesch was back in the clubhouse, his teammates celebrated the moment by dousing him with beer and shaving cream. There were still streaks of white in his hair, and his T-shirt was soaked when he explained what the night meant to him with his family down from Missouri to watch him.

"It means a lot," Tepesch said. "It's what I have been working for since I started playing the game. But there is a lot of hard work left to go."

Getting through the second inning was the biggest moment. All three walks took place in that frame. Evan Longoria led off with a walk, and after two groundouts, Tepesch walked Yunel Escobar and Jose Molina to load the bases. But he came back to strike out Kelly Johnson with the bases loaded to end the threat.

"It was definitely a confidence booster," Tepesch said. "I made an adjustment. ... I was trying to make too good of a pitch, rather than just make a quality pitch. I just tried to make it a quality pitch, have him put it into play and hopefully get a ground ball right at somebody."

The Rays got their run off Tepesch in the third. Desmond Jennings led off with a double, went to third on Matt Joyce's grounder to second and scored on Zobrist's grounder to first. The Rays led 1-0, but from then on Tepesch was in complete control, getting one ground ball after another.

"He was in control after the second inning," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "He took charge. Tremendous makeup. He trusts his stuff, knows what he is capable of doing and never gets outside himself."

The Rangers, led by Leonys Martin and Berkman, provided Tepesch with plenty of support, scoring two runs apiece in the third, fifth and seventh innings. Martin started each of the rallies, first by drawing a one-out walk in the third off Rays starter Roberto Hernandez before leading off the fifth and the seventh with singles. Berkman, who was 3-for-4 with two RBIs, is now hitting .480 on the season.

Tepesch took a 6-1 lead into the eighth and retired Molina on a fly ball to right to start the inning. That was the first putout made by the Rangers' outfield. Then Johnson reached on a dribbler down the first-base line for a single and Jennings grounded a double down the third-base line. That put runners on second and third and brought Tepesch's night to end.

Washington went to the bullpen and brought in Robbie Ross, who retired the next two hitters without letting a run score. Tepesch jogged off to a standing ovation from a crowd of 31,398.

"It was pretty cool," Tepesch said. "I heard it, but I put my head down and jogged in."

On the night of his Major League debut, Tepesch was composed to the end.

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.