ARLINGTON -- Yu Darvish left Monday's start against the Pirates after seven innings because of symptoms that suggested a cramp was coming on in his right leg. Darvish said it wasn't serious and he expects to make his next start against the Athletics on Saturday.
What does appear to be serious is the Rangers are struggling to snap out of their slump as they enter the final three weeks of the season and try to stay within reach of the first-place Athletics.
The Rangers, overwhelmed by Pirates starter Gerrit Cole, fell to two games behind the Athletics with 19 to play after a 1-0 loss on Monday at the Ballpark in Arlington. The Rangers have lost seven of their last 10 games, although they still have a four-game cushion in the Wild Card standings.
That's not the race the Rangers are looking at right now.
"We just have to win every game we can," A.J. Pierzynski said. "Everybody knows what's at stake and where we stand. But I'll take these guys and go to battle. Hopefully with whatever games we have left, we'll do the best we can and things will work out."
Winning with Darvish on the mound would help, but the Rangers are winless in his last five starts even though he allowed one run on four hits and a walk with six strikeouts Monday. Cole, the Pirates rookie right-hander, was simply better with seven scoreless innings in his 16th Major League start. The Rangers managed just three hits and two walks against him, while Cole struck out a career-high nine.
"That guy was really good," Elvis Andrus said. "If he pitches like that every start, he'll be the National League Cy Young winner. He's got impressive stuff, he doesn't make mistakes and he kept the ball at the knees. Every at-bat I had he was on the black."
The Rangers are hitting .243 with a .295 on-base percentage and a .387 slugging percentage in their last 10 games. They're averaging 2.9 runs per game in that stretch as well as hitting just .171 with runners in scoring position. They were 0-for-2 on Monday night.
"I knew we were in a little bit of a rut, but I wasn't going out there trying to throw zeros," Cole said after the Pirates snapped a four-game losing streak. "Whatever Yu was going to do, I was just trying to match or keep us in striking distance toward the end of the ballgame. He's really tough with all the different offerings he shows you. I was just glad I was able to keep the ball down and stay aggressive."
Darvish was terrific for six innings, allowing just two hits and two walks, holding his own in a scoreless duel with Cole.
"We needed him to step up and he did step up," manager Ron Washington said.
Darvish also retired the first two hitters in the seventh before Marlon Byrd ripped a double to left and Pedro Alvarez lined a double to left-center to break the scoreless tie. Darvish retired Russell Martin on a grounder to third to end the inning and that was the end of the night. He was done after 81 pitches because of his leg, although he said it was not as bad as the cramp that grabbed him in a start against the White Sox on Aug. 24.
Darvish said he was not feeling a cramp but more of the possibility that one was starting to develop. He also said the issue did not affect his pitching in the seventh inning.
"It's not serious at all," Darvish said. "I was still able to make pitches."
Until the two doubles, Darvish was at the top of his game and much better than his previous start against the Athletics on Wednesday when allowed five runs in five innings. In that game, he walked five and allowed two home runs.
"Tonight was very effective and very efficient," Darvish said. "Obviously at this point of the year you're not going to feel great. There is some wear and tear. But I was able to focus and concentrate."
He just couldn't match Cole. The Rangers' best chance came in the sixth when Andrus drew a two-out walk and stole second. After Alex Rios walked, he and Andrus pulled off a double steal that put runners at second and third. But Adrian Beltre grounded out to shortstop to end the inning. Beltre has one hit in his last 21 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
"He's just not squaring the ball up like he was earlier," Washington said. "He'll get back to squaring the ball up."
Beltre singled his next time up but that was with two outs in the ninth against Pirates closer Mark Melancon. Pierzynski then grounded out to end the game. Darvish has received a total of 10 runs of support in his last six starts, and this was the third time this season he has lost a game by the score of 1-0.
"This is what it is," Darvish said. "It's baseball. Sometimes the offense can't score runs, some days they score 20 runs. Some days you throw a no-hitter and not win. The hitters tried their best and today I did my best."
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.