T-minus 10 and counting.
With Tuesday’s 11-4 win over the Tigers combined with the A’s 11-3 loss to the Royals, the Rangers magic number for clinching the West has now reached 10. We will have playoff lift-off soon.
But today’s entry isn’t about magic numbers or terrific offense or bad defense on both sides. Today I wish to bring up something a little bit morbid. I think I’m kind of glad Dustin Nippert got hit in the head with a line drive.
For those who may not remember (or didn’t know at all), back on July 19th, Nippert faced the same Tigers he pitched against Tuesday night. Nippert was the Rangers long-relief/spot starter option from the start of the season. He’d served in the same role to great effect in 2009.
2010 was a different story. From the outset, Nippert wasn’t the same pitcher he was in 2009. He gave up three runs in 2 2/3 innings his first time out. The rest of April wasn’t too bad and his ERA managed to creep down as low as 3.60 in early May. After that, a 5-run, 1.1 inning performance pushed the ERA over the 6 mark. From that point on, Nippert’s ERA stayed mostly in the 5’s. Honestly, I dreaded Nippert coming into games. Even in scoreless innings, it didn’t seem like his pitches were fooling anyone.
On July 19th, Nippert faced the Tigers in the 7th inning at Comerica Park. He struck out the first batter he faced. Then Austin Jackson came to the plate. After working the count to 3-2, Nippert threw a fastball. Jackson hit the ball square and it went straight to Nippert’s head, ricocheting into left field for a double while the pitcher fell to the ground like a rock. The medical staff jumped out of the dugout and ran to the field in record time.
After some long anxious moments, Nippert sat up, then stood. Incredibly, Nippert tried to talk Ron Washington into letting him stay in the ballgame, but Wash would have none of it. Nippert was pulled and he was placed on the disabled list the next day.
Nippert did not return to the Rangers until September 4th. Funny thing is, Nippert hasn’t given up a run since his return. There was an inning and a third against the Twins on the 4th, another scoreless inning against the Twins on the 5th, a short 1/3 of an inning in this past Friday’s 13-inning marathon against the Yankees.
Finally, Tuesday night Nippert faced the Tigers again. Coming in for the ineffective Derek Holland, who gave up four runs in only four innings of work, Nippert pitched another 4 1/3 innings of no-run relief, his longest stint of the season, earning the victory when the Rangers stormed back from a 4-1 deficit to take their 6th straight win. Austin Jackson, whose double had sent Nippert to the DL 6 weeks ago, was 0-2 against Dustin, striking out his first time up against him.
I imagine most write-ups of this game will talk about David Murphy’s home run and two doubles, Michael Young’s 3 hits, including a bases loaded 3-run double, or just the Rangers scoring the last ten runs of the game in general. For me, this game was about Dustin Nippert.
Since coming back from that liner to the noggin, Nippert has a line of 7 innings, 4 hits, 2 walks and 3 strikeouts. And 0 runs. His ERA is now down to 4.59, the lowest it’s been since that day in May when it was 3.60.
Morbid as it sounds, I think that July line drive did him some good. He’s sure pitched like a different man since.