Commentary

At the plate, Young is a constant

As a team, the Rangers hope to rebound from their worst offensive season in years

Updated: February 23, 2010, 8:50 PM ET
By Richard Durrett | ESPNDallas.com

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Texas Rangers hitting coach Clint Hurdle watched as Michael Young took his first few swings in the desert Tuesday.

[+] EnlargeHamilton/Kinsler
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallIan Kinsler (left) and Josh Hamilton both had issues with injuries and making contact in 2009.

The bat certainly made a lively sound as Young sent three line drives to various parts of the outfield during batting practice under sunny skies.

"Just wind him up and he hits," said Hurdle, smiling and shaking his head.

Young, now a wise, old sage in the Rangers' clubhouse at 33 years old, is a constant in an offense that enters 2010 with something to prove.

An offense that historically produces mammoth homers and scores runs in bunches didn't deliver at its usual rate in 2009. The Rangers scored 784 runs, their fewest since 1992. Their .260 average was the lowest since they moved to Rangers Ballpark in Arlington in 1994. The numbers pushed the club to the middle of the pack in the American League, unfamiliar territory to be sure.

It was surprising, considering that offense put up 901 runs in 2008, tops in the American League. The Rangers did manage to hit the ball out of the park often -- their 224 homers tied for second in the majors -- but they didn't get the big hits at the crucial times.

This spring, the focus is on making the right decisions based on the situation. Hurdle has talked about making every at-bat count, including productive outs that move runners over.

"We talked game situations until we were blue in the face last year, we just didn't execute," Young said. "We didn't get it done. ... The good news is a lot of guys have been talking about it over the winter, and we know it's going to be a point of emphasis this spring training."

Several players talked about how the offense was pressing things last season.

"You'd see a guy not get a hit in front of you and you'd want to go up there and do it yourself," David Murphy said. "You can't do that. If you're thinking that way, you're not in the right frame of mind. It's tough not to think that way, but you have to avoid it."

To bolster the lineup, the Rangers signed slugger Vladimir Guerrero to be the cleanup hitter. Manager Ron Washington expects to get more out of Ian Kinsler, who is moving to the fifth hole, and Josh Hamilton. Both players struggled at the plate and battled injuries last year. Kinsler's power numbers were solid -- 31 homers and 86 RBIs -- but he believes he can hit for a much better average than .253.

"I'm going to be in a spot where I can drive in runs and help this team," Kinsler said. "The No. 1 thing is to do whatever it takes to help the team win. We have to be more consistent as an offense, and I think we'll do that."

With young up-and-comers Julio Borbon, Elvis Andrus and Chris Davis and the power of Nelson Cruz, the Rangers feel they'll be bouncing back on offense. Washington sees a balanced lineup with speed at the top, middle and bottom and some key run producers.

"We just need these guys to live up to their capabilities," Washington said.

It's never a question of whether Young will live up to his capability. He's been doing that almost since he arrived in the majors. Young hit .322 in 2009, marking the sixth time in the past seven full seasons he's hit at least .306. He's made six straight All-Star teams and has a Gold Glove.

"He's in that second slot, and he definitely makes us go," Washington said. "He can quickly put guys on first and third the way he hits a ball to the opposite field and the way he's figured out how to use his power. You never worry about Michael Young's offense."

Young said this team now expects to win.

"That's exciting for me to be a part of," he said. "There's been a definite shift in our attitude, a shift in the way we look at each other as teammates. We have a lot of great guys in this room, guys that care about winning, care about being accountable and care about wanting to do things the right way."

Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

Richard Durrett joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He writes about colleges, the Dallas Stars and the Texas Rangers. Richard spent nine years at The Dallas Morning News covering the Rangers, Stars, colleges, motorsports and high schools.

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