ATLANTA -- Provided an opportunity to take advantage of a young pitcher and improve their bid to earn an American League Wild Card spot, the Rangers used home runs from Elvis Andrus and Mike Napoli to claim a 12-8 win over the Braves on Wednesday afternoon in the first game of a split doubleheader at SunTrust Park.
With the win, the Rangers moved to within 1 1/2 games of the Twins for the second AL Wild Card spot.
"We are playing good baseball," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "With the offense in the absence of [Adrian] Beltre, guys are really pitching in, and we are putting some runs on the board."
Andrus (4-for-5) ignited the offensive attack by drilling Braves rookie Luiz Gohara's 97-mph fastball over the center-field wall for a two-out solo shot in the first inning. It was Andrus' 20th home run, as he became the third player to reach 20 homers and 20 stolen bases this season.
The Rangers scored six runs against Gohara, spoiling his Major League debut. Most of their damage happened in the fourth inning, as Will Middlebrooks drove in the go-ahead run with his two-run pinch-hit triple. Napoli's 29th home run in the fifth inning gave Texas more comfort as it cruised toward victory.
The runs were enough for starting pitcher Miguel Gonzalez, who made his first start for the Rangers after an Aug. 31 trade from the White Sox. He didn't earn a decision and gave up four runs in three innings. However, he felt that his start was something to build upon in the Rangers' playoff push.
"I just have to work in between my starts and be more aggressive in the [strike] zone," Gonzalez said. "I have to try not to miss my spots, as I think that is the most important thing."
Gohara, the Braves' No. 8 prospect according to MLBPipeline.com, displayed some of his tremendous potential as he recorded six strikeouts and six swings and misses with his much-hyped slider. However, he struggled with his command throughout the game. Gohara threw 32 balls and walked four batters in four innings. He opened the third by walking Gonzalez, who had never walked or recorded a hit in 18 previous career plate appearances, and then issued two straight walks to begin the fateful fourth.
"I tried to calm down a little bit. It's just that the walks happen in baseball," said Gohara, who began the season with Class A Advanced Florida. "We can control it, but when you're excited, it's hard to do."
The Braves' offense picked up Gohara early, with Matt Kemp and Ender Inciarte both hitting home runs to keep the game close. Inciarte finished 3-for-5 and is now 22 hits shy of becoming the first Braves player since Marquis Grissom (207 in 1996) to have at least 200 hits in a season.
The Braves rallied late with four runs in the final three innings, however it wasn't enough to overcome the Rangers' lead.
"We came out and scored the runs off [Gonzalez]," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "Our guys had never seen him other than on television.
"We battled back and stayed after it. It's just hard when you've got the lead and then you have the innings like that and you walk a couple guys to start an inning, it's tough."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Kemp's missed dive: After Inciarte's 11th home run gave the Braves a 3-2 lead in the third, the Rangers took advantage of a defensive mistake by Kemp in left field in the fourth. Kemp dove for a sinking line drive from Middlebrooks, but he couldn't complete the catch. As a result, Middlebrooks ended up on third base after two runs had scored. It proved costly, as Texas took the lead and didn't look back en route to its 70th victory of the season.
Bullpen woes: Down 6-4 in the fifth inning, the Braves turned to Matt Wisler to relieve Gohara. Wisler got the first two batters before allowing seven out of the next nine batters he faced to reach base. Five of those hits went for extra bases, and he finished his outing giving up five earned runs in 1 1/3 innings.
"It was good to see him back and running around. It looked like he was fine and had no issues with the bruise. It was good to have him back out there." -- Snitker, on Johan Camargo, who entered as a late-inning replacement and went 2-for-2 in his return from being sidelined with a bone bruise on Aug. 8
"We [pitchers] are not used to being out there. I just hustled and I didn't know whether to dive or not to dive. It was a little awkward in that situation, but we got the run in. Everyone was pretty pumped about it." -- Gonzalez, on running base paths in third inning
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS Ozzie Albies' third-inning triple was his fifth within his first 118 career at-bats. Just six Braves have had more than five triples in any season going back to 2010.
WHAT'S NEXT Rangers:Cole Hamels will start Game 2 of the split doubleheader against Atlanta at SunTrust Park as the series concludes at 6:35 p.m. CT. Hamels has a 4.85 ERA over his last nine starts.
Braves:Julio Teheran will take the mound when these two teams resume their doubleheader at 7:35 p.m. ET. Teheran has allowed two runs or less in three of the four starts made since he regained a feel for his slider.