Commentary

Kinsler wants mind out of the clutter

Rangers 2B aims to slow the game down this season when he's at the plate

Updated: March 1, 2010, 5:47 PM ET
By Richard Durrett | ESPNDallas.com

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Ian Kinsler sounded a bit like a sports psychologist as he described what he called a 2009 season that "wasn't good to my standards."

He talked about doing too much searching for a certain feeling when he got in the batter's box, rather than just playing the game. He allowed various thoughts to creep into his mind, clouding him from the task at hand.

"My goal is to get rid of that and just have complete focus on every swing, every ground ball," Kinsler said. "If you do that, you slow the game down, and everything comes easy. It's nothing mechanical."

Kinsler's numbers in total don't reveal a disappointing season. He hit a career-high 31 homers and had 86 RBIs. He also stole 31 bases. But he batted .253 and wasn't the consistent hitter he was in 2008, when he was putting up solid statistics that had some talking MVP before he was injured late in the season.

"Personally, I know there's a lot more for myself," Kinsler said. "If I'm going to evaluate myself, I know there's a lot more in there, and I'm sick of saying that to myself. I'm sick of potential. I want to just be what I am. I'm concentrating on that."

Kinsler notes that no one talks about potential when discussing Michael Young. Young is an established, elite player who plays at a high level every game and every season. Kinsler benefits from having his locker right next to Young's and watching him go about his craft every day. And Young is quick to compliment Kinsler on his game and future.

"He's a solid player who plays hard and puts the team first," Young said. "That's the most important thing."

Kinsler's focus this spring training is on exactly that. And to do that, he wants to make sure every part of his game is in the proper order when the season starts.

"I'm way more of a consistent player than I was last year," Kinsler said. "I produce runs. I played very well defensively. I had a good year. I just think there's a lot more than what I did last year. Statistically, it might not show up. But playing the game the right way and doing things that help the team win is my job. It's a very unselfish locker room. We're pulling in the same direction, and it's a very good feeling."

Kinsler didn't panic and alter his mechanics or seek major swing changes this offseason. But he did feel that his swing didn't have the "looseness or freeness" it needed.

"I was tighter through the zone and using my big muscles too much, and you don't want to do that," Kinsler said. "It slows you down. When I start thinking, 'Josh is hurt, Mike's hurt, I've got to do something more today,' you don't swing the way you should. It's hard to take a step back during the season and see that. I was doing that because I was trying to do too much. Even thinking about what I needed to do slowed me down."

It wasn't a lack of trust in his teammates that drove Kinsler to think that way. In fact, it's pressure to perform for those teammates that led Kinsler and other members of the Rangers' lineup to press when things weren't going right during the season.

Kinsler looks calm and confident in the batting cages during spring training so far. Hitting coach Clint Hurdle told the players to use their time with live pitching any way they wanted. Kinsler spent one round simply getting in his stance and watching pitches to get a feel for how his eyes were recognizing pitches. It's all part of an effort to focus on details now so that he's not overwhelmed with thoughts later. Kinsler wants to spend the spring hitting the ball to all fields and putting together solid line-drive-hitting sessions.

"I don't want to hit the ball in the air as much as I did last year," Kinsler said. "I know I'm going to hit the ball in the air, but I don't want it to be at that high of a rate. If I play the way that I have played in the past, it's not an issue. That's what I'm going to do this year."

Kinsler hit the fewest number of ground balls for any starting second baseman in the American League in 2009. He was third in fly balls, putting his ratio of ground balls to fly balls last among AL second basemen and near the bottom of the league as a whole among those with at least 500 plate appearances.

But Kinsler was better in both categories in 2008, meaning that if he does what he wants to do -- play the way he has in the past -- things should improve in 2010.

"I know I can play better," Kinsler said. "That's my focus."

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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