If the Texas Rangers are to salvage something positive to conclude a rough trip, they must do so minus their new ace.
With Cole Hamels resting a sore left groin, rookie Chi Chi Gonzalez tries to end his recent major league struggles and help the Rangers avoid a three-game sweep at the hands of the Minnesota Twins on Thursday.
Excluding Saturday's 11-3, 11-inning win over Seattle, Texas (55-57) has totaled eight runs while losing the other four on this six-game trip. However, pitching was the problem during Wednesday's 11-1 defeat. Nick Martinez allowed seven runs before he was lifted in the fourth as the Twins (57-56) did all their scoring over the first five innings to post back-to-back wins after losing 16 of the previous 21.
"This one is not typical," Texas manager Jeff Banister said. "They do happen, but it's one we don't need at this time of year.''
Trying to keep pace in the AL wild-card race, the Rangers were last swept in a road series Sept. 1-3 at Kansas City. They haven't been swept at Minnesota since 2010.
This was supposed to be Hamels' turn in the rotation but the club hopes it will be the only start he misses.
"I understand the situation, where the team is at and what I want to do here," Hamels told MLB's official website. "I want to play a good part in this, but if I'm not able to do that close to 100 percent, I don't want to jeopardize the team or the bullpen. So we'll play it out, be smart and miss a game."
Enter Gonzalez (2-4, 3.74 ERA), who was recalled from Triple-A Round Rock to take a big league mound for the first time since July 3 when he allowed six runs in 1 2-3 innings of an 8-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels. The right-hander has a 10.13 ERA while losing his last three starts after going 2-1 with an 0.90 ERA in the first four of his career.
He went 2-2 with a 4.00 ERA in five starts since being demoted to Round Rock last month.
"I'm sure if I do anything well, it will give them a tough reason to send me back," Gonzalez said. "I just want to be successful and do well and leave that in their hands. I haven't heard anything so I will just go out there and do my job."
It's uncertain if Gonzalez will have Josh Hamilton behind him after the former AL MVP was scratched from Wednesday's lineup with a sore left knee. Hamilton is batting .350 in his last five contests, and is 4 for his last 9 with a home run and two doubles against Ervin Santana (2-3, 5.40).
The right-hander went 2-0 with a 2.60 ERA in his first four starts back from an 80-game suspension but has a 10.93 ERA while dropping the last three. He gave up eight runs for the second time in his last three starts plus 10 hits in 2 1-3 innings of Saturday's 17-4 loss at Cleveland.
''I'm not worried, I know I'm a good pitcher,'' Santana said. ''I'm just going to forget about it and get them the next time.''
Prince Fielder (6 for 16) and Mike Napoli (7 for 19) have both handled Santana well, hitting three homers apiece.
After homering twice and recording six RBIs on Wednesday, Twins rookie Miguel Sano is 5 for 6 in the series and batting .385 with 11 RBIs in the last seven contests.