Andrus grows up on the job
The thing that impressed manager Ron Washington the most about Elvis Andrus was his maturity.
At age 20, Andrus was handed the starting job despite never having played an inning in Triple-A. The Rangers even moved Michael Young, a Gold Glove shortstop in 2008, to third base to make room for him.
Andrus arrived at spring training humble and ready to learn. He never acted like a player squinting from the glare of the spotlight and stayed even-keeled as the season began. His steady play early helped calm doubts over whether he was ready.
"He won some people over quickly when they realized he could play the game," Washington said. "He showed how mature he was."
Andrus showed it again Monday. He didn't win the American League Rookie of the Year Award despite making a huge impact on the Rangers in 2009. Andrus finished second to Oakland relief pitcher Andrew Bailey.
Andrus had a gaggle of phenomenal plays, steady improvement and was a key reason for the Rangers' improved defense. Bailey won it on pure numbers.
The A's closer had a 1.84 ERA, a 6-3 record and had 26 saves in 30 opportunities, including a string of 21 straight to finish the season. Only Mariano Rivera had a better ERA among closers, and no one had could top Bailey's .167 opponents batting average.
It's not as if Andrus didn't have some statistics in his favor. He finished the season with a .267 batting average, but hit .280 after the All-Star break. He led the majors in chances per nine innings (5.03), and no shortstop had a better range factor per nine innings. Andrus also utilized his speed, stealing 33 bases -- the most by any rookie in the majors.
But Andrus had no complaints when asked if he was disappointed. He sounded like a veteran, saying he wants to get better and help lead the club to the playoffs and the World Series.
"It was a close race, and Andrew Bailey is a great player," said Andrus, who is in Venezuela and said he'll play a month of winter ball starting next week. "This year was amazing for me. I learned so many good things and appreciate being nominated. I know I have things to get better in the future."
It was the type of comment Washington has come to expect from his shortstop. Washington wasn't surprised Andrus didn't win, but he was disappointed.
"It's why I've always thought there should be separate award for pitchers," Washington said. "Elvis was out there nearly every day. Bailey had 30 chances and he was good. But pitchers can go five or six days without being out there or just getting an inning of work. Elvis had close to 500 at-bats."
Washington has a point. But that's not how it's done. It means there won't be any hardware sitting in Andrus' house or in the Rangers' trophy case.
They haven't had a rookie of the year winner since just after Richard Nixon left office, when Mike Hargrove won it 35 years ago. The A's, by the way, have had seven winners since then. The Rangers have no trouble earning MVP Award -- five since the franchise arrived in Texas in 1972. But they have just one rookie of the year award and continue to wait for the day when a Cy Young Award comes to Arlington.
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The reality is that if that day ever comes, Andrus will likely be a big reason why. The rookie made a huge impact on the club's defense in 2009, something that helped push the Rangers into contention through most of the season. It isn't coincidence that the Rangers' staff ERA dropped by nearly a run the same season that the defense dramatically improved. Andrus' range at shortstop had a lot to do with that. And his play, combined with Young at third base, stabilized the infield.
Andrus' ascension to the starting shortstop job didn't happen without controversy. To even get him on the field, the Rangers had to shift Young to third base after a Gold Glove season at shortstop. Young, understandably, was initially unsure of making such a move, but agreed and arrived in spring training without raising a ruckus. He also didn't hesitate to help Andrus, who was hungry to improve and sought Young's advice.
The Rangers also brought in veteran Omar Vizquel to help Andrus grow into his new position. Vizquel talked to Andrus about how to handle certain situations and was there to answer any questions. Vizquel was one of Andrus' favorite players as he worked his way up to the majors, and Andrus was thrilled to play on the same team with him.
"They were leaders; they were winning guys," Andrus said of Young and Vizquel. "That what I want to be. Those two guys, they were the key for me this year. I asked questions and I appreciate the help they gave me during the year."
Washington can't wait to see how Andrus grows in the future. He expects the young player to get even better as he gets more comfortable and gains more experience.
"I think he'll be here for a long time to come," Washington said. "The only person that can put a ceiling on his growth is Elvis. His talent is unlimited. It's a matter of him wanting more than just being good. He's capable of being one of the best."
Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com. E-mail email@example.com.