On a chilly opening night when Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt made their much-hyped Round Rock debuts, it was Nick Tepesch’s cameo appearance for the Express that was the bigger deal in the grand scheme of things.
Tepesch, named the Texas Rangers’ No. 5 starter, pitched five innings Thursday at Dell Diamond, allowing only an unearned run in the Express’ 3-1 win over Omaha.
Next stop for Tepesch: Arlington, April 9, against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Not bad for a 24-year-old who had only two seasons in professional ball and had never pitched above Double-A.
“I think I am ready,” said Tepesch, a former Missouri Tiger who was Texas’ 14th-round draft choice in 2010. “I feel confident. I have to stick to my strengths, stick to my game plan.”
For Tepesch, that plan is attacking the strike zone. Of his 77 pitches, just 21 were balls. He had five strikeouts and no walks.
“I had good overall command, that was the best part,” the 6-foot-4-inch, 220-pounder said. “The slider got away from me a little, but my changeup is getting a lot better.
“It was exciting being out there for an opening night.”
Same goes for Profar, the consensus No. 1 overall prospect in baseball, and Olt, ranked second in the Texas farm system.
Profar, the 20-year-old shortstop, ripped a single to center field in his first trip to the plate. He promptly stole second base. The next time up he walked and scored on a crisp double down the left-field line by Olt, the 24-year-old third baseman.
Profar singled in his third trip and finished 2 for 3. Olt went 1 for 4.
Tepesch, who came out of nowhere in spring training, demonstrated why Rangers management is suddenly so high on him.
“He shows no emotion on the mound. He just goes about his business,” Round Rock manager Bobby Jones said. “He’s a strike-thrower with a nice four-pitch mix, but what I really like is how he handles himself out there.”
Omaha starter Will Smith, a hulking 6-5, 250-pound lefty, threw a lot of swinging strikes, so many that he whiffed 11 batters in five innings. But the Express, who struck out a staggering 16 times among 24 outs, got to him for two runs in the fifth on Aaron Cunningham’s sacrifice fly and Olt’s double.
Round Rock’s Engel Beltre, also making his Triple-A debut, scored the third run, in the seventh, on a bizarre play when he appeared picked off first, but the swift center fielder circled the bases and scored after a couple of throwing errors. Beltre had two hits and two runs.
Josh Lindblom, who eventually will be the Express’ No. 5 starter, worked three dominant innings after Tepesch left, striking out four, and Evan Meek pitched the ninth for the save.
Notes: The attendance was announced at 8,444, but the cold front that moved through Central Texas held down the live gate. … Pregame ceremonies included hundreds of Little Leaguers and a military tribute. … There were at least 15 scouts on hand, no doubt mostly to see the Rangers’ prospects.
Round Rock is 5-4 on both opening day and in home openers since becoming a Pacific Coast League club. … Five Express players were in their first Triple-A game.