SEATTLE -- Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre does not wear a protective cup when he is on the field. He once spent over a month on the disabled list for reasons related to this particular preference.He won't even wear one when left-hander Matt Harrison is on the mound. "I didn't even know that ... he's crazy," Harrison said. "I don't either but a lot more balls get hit to third than they do the pitcher." Beltre had a busy day on Sunday at Safeco Field with Harrison on the mound. He had to deal with several hard-hit balls in his direction but Beltre handled them all and his defense was instrumental in Harrison's 4-0 victory over the Mariners. Beltre, who was also 3-for-4 with a big two-run single at the plate, enjoyed every minute of it, even in the ninth inning when the last ground ball hit to him was smacked particularly hard. "Harrison is a guy who pounds the strike zone so you know you're going to have a busy day," Beltre said. "He's the kind of guy who keeps you on your toes. We like it when he's out there." That's certainly the case when the Rangers are facing the Mariners. Harrison, in pitching his second complete-game shutout of the season, has now won eight straight starts against the Mariners. That's the third longest winning streak against one opponent in Rangers history, trailing Charlie Hough's 13-game streak against the Indians and a nine-game streak against the Twins. Harrison, who allowed five hits, walked four and struck out three over 114 pitches. He is also 5-0 with a 0.96 ERA in five career starts and two relief appearances at Safeco Field. That's the lowest ERA for any pitcher with at least four career starts at Safeco. "I thought it was different today," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. "I know we didn't score any runs, but I felt like our at-bats were a lot better against him. I think we only struck out a couple times against him. We had seven or eight hard outs." Most were in the direction of Beltre, who had six assists including two that were part of double plays. The six assists were a season high. Harrison entered the game with the 11th best ratio of ground balls to fly balls in the American League. "Harrison's sinker was working today," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "He was staying on top of it and they were pulling it down to a Gold Glover." Beltre's defense also helped Harrison overcome some command issues. He walked a season-high four but the Mariners were 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position. "I was having trouble getting my feel and I walked some guys but I was able to get them to put the ball in play and my defense made some big plays," Harrison said. "I owe it all to them." Harrison is now 12-4 with a 2.87 ERA on the season and is tied with Tampa Bay's David Price for the most wins in the American League. "His confidence is high and he has a real presence on the mound," Beltre said. "We feel comfortable when he's out there and gets going. We love the way he's throwing." With the victory, the Rangers ended up taking two of three from the Mariners and remain five games ahead of the Angels in the American League West. The Athletics are eight back going into a two-game series against the Rangers that starts Tuesday in Oakland. The Rangers beat Mariners starter Hishashi Iwakuma although they have now gone 10 straight games in scoring four runs or fewer. That was more than enough with Harrison on the mound, and the only run they ended up needing came in the first. Ian Kinsler led off with a walk, went to second on a passed ball and then scored on a couple of ground balls by Elvis Andrus and Josh Hamilton. "Execution," Washington said. "It's been awhile since I've seen execution. But that's what that was." Craig Gentry got another rally going in the third when he led off with a single and went to third on a one-out double by Andrus. The Mariners elected to walk Hamilton and Beltre delivered a two-run single with a ground ball through the left side. "It fires me up," Beltre said. "I like the challenge. I don't blame them for doing it but I like it. I want to come through." It's kind of like the challenge of playing unprotected at third base with Harrison on the mound. Beltre had no trouble with either challenge on Sunday.
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.