NEW YORK -- Joe Nathan's save against the Yankees in the Rangers' 8-5 victory on Wednesday was his 26th of the season, tying him with Mariano Rivera for second most in the American League. Nathan is hoping he and Rivera will also be joined together on July 16 at the All-Star Game at Citi Field in New York.
Major League players will vote this weekend on their All-Star selections. In addition to nine reserve position players, they will select five starting pitchers and three relievers. Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who will lead the AL squad, will then select five additional pitchers.
Nathan and Rivera have both made strong cases for being on the staff. In addition to 26 saves, Nathan and Rivera have just one blown save each. Rivera's 1.55 ERA, heading into Thursday, is the lowest among 12 relievers with at least 16 saves, and Nathan is second in that group with a 1.62 ERA. Nathan has also held opponents to a .165 batting average, second lowest among AL closers.
"I guess with a couple of weeks to go it's looking pretty good," Nathan said. "Absolutely, I would love to go. It's always a huge honor to go to the All-Star Game, and I've had arguably one of my better first halves if you look at all the right numbers."
This would be Nathan's sixth All-Star selection and second with Texas if he got it. Rivera would be going for a 13th time and it'll be his last. Rivera has announced that this will be his final season.
"At least he's living up to it," Nathan said. "It's nice to get in, but it's also nice to earn it. He's doing that."
Washington looks to ease bullpen burden
NEW YORK -- Manager Ron Washington knows that right-handed setup reliever Tanner Scheppers and left-handers Neal Cotts and Robbie Ross are carrying heavy workloads. The skipper also knows that he could ease that burden by integrating veteran right-handed relievers Kyle McClellan and Jason Frasor into the mix.
But Washington has had a hard time doing that, and neither pitcher has yet to appear in a game on this road trip. In Frasor's case, Washington said it's because the Yankees and the Cardinals are loaded with left-handed bats, which means he prefers to use Cotts and Ross. Frasor has only pitched in eight games this month, but he does have a 1.59 ERA in June.
"He's been doing a great job when we've been able to put him in there," Washington said. "He has been a successful reliever, but with the lineups we have been facing, we've had to use the left-handers and then Scheppers in the eighth inning."
McClellan was an integral member of the Cardinals' bullpen over the previous five years before signing with the Rangers. But he suffered a major setback in Spring Training with a strained muscle in his right rib cage and wasn't called up to the big leagues until June 9. The Rangers aren't ready to rush him into crunch-time assignments.
"We just haven't had a situation where we could get him out here, get some work in and get a feel," Washington said. "We're not going to throw him to the wolves."
The Rangers are also hoping to get former All-Star closer Joakim Soria back before the All-Star Game and into an integral role in the bullpen. Soria, who underwent Tommy John surgery on April 3, 2012, pitched a scoreless inning for the Arizona Rookie League Rangers on Wednesday, and his next outing will be Friday for Triple-A Round Rock.
The final test will be going in back-to-back games, but when Soria is activated, the Rangers expect him to gradually assume a prominent role in the bullpen. He was the Royals' closer for five years before the surgery.
"It would give me the ability to not run Scheppers out there three to four days in a row and give me the ability, once he really gets going, to back off Joe [Nathan]," Washington said.
The big question is how long it will take Soria to become an impact reliever after being out so long because of the surgery. The skipper knows it's not going to be immediate.
"We're not going to throw him into the fire," Washington said. "We're going to give him some innings that are not stressful and let him show us what he can do."
A Bronx Tale: Engel Beltre returns home
NEW YORK -- Rangers outfielder Engel Beltre was born in the Dominican Republic, but he grew up in the Bronx not far from Yankee Stadium. He attended DeWitt Clinton and James Monroe High School in the Bronx, so he was thrilled that he made his Major League debut at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night.
"I'm so happy to be here," Beltre said. "That's the one thing I always wanted: to play in Yankee Stadium. My family gets to see me. It's a great moment for me."
Beltre recorded his first big league hit in the third inning on Thursday, a single off starter Phil Hughes.
Beltre got to play at the old Yankee Stadium when James Monroe lost to Thomas Jefferson in the PSAL High School championship game in his junior year. Beltre went 1-for-2 with a single in that game and also pitched.
After his junior year, Beltre moved back to the Dominican Republic. That allowed him to avoid the First-Year Player Draft and sign with the Red Sox. The Rangers tried to sign him as an amateur as well, but they finally acquired him on July 31, 2007, along with outfielder David Murphy and pitcher Kason Gabbard for pitcher Eric Gagne.
Beltre was used as a pinch-runner in the ninth inning on Wednesday and was thrown out trying to steal second. He was in the starting lineup for the first time in center field on Thursday, batting ninth. Manager Ron Washington wanted to give Leonys Martin a day off, even though Martin has an 11-game hitting streak.
• Alexi Ogando, on the 15-day disabled list with inflammation in his right shoulder, threw on flat ground Thursday and will throw a bullpen session on Friday in Arlington. His next step could be live batting practice when the Rangers return home. He will need at least two rehab starts before he returns to the rotation, and Texas isn't expecting him back until after the All-Star break.
Washington reiterated that Ogando will return to the rotation rather than the bullpen.
Said Washington: "We'd like to have Ogando back. When Ogando is ready to go, somebody's got to go or maybe somebody goes to the bullpen. He is going back in the rotation."
• Starting pitchers must go a minimum of five innings to get a victory. Justin Grimm is only the second Rangers pitcher to go the minimum of only five innings in back-to-back starts and get a victory. The other was Aaron Myette in 2002.
• Thursday marked the 40th anniversary of David Clyde's Major League debut with the Rangers. Clyde, who was 18 when he beat the Twins on June 27, 1973, remains the youngest player to ever play for the Rangers.
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.