Rangers' bats, gloves falling flat
It's hard to complain about pitching, but there's plenty of room to improve elsewhere
NEW YORK -- It's only two weeks into the season, but we've learned a few things about the 2010 Texas Rangers.
First, they don't like New York. Cleveland literally turned many of the players' stomachs, but the team got out of town with two wins. The Yankee Stadium palace was a different story. The Rangers had defensive struggles, couldn't string enough hits together and ran into a team that sure looks focused on repeating as world champions.
The three-game sweep left the Rangers at 5-7 and in no better than third place in the AL West, a spot they haven't occupied for an extended time since April 2009.
The good news for the Rangers: They won't return to New York for the rest of the regular season.
More good news: The pitching through the first dozen games has been pretty solid. Outside of two early blown saves and a few starting performance that featured pitch counts on the high side and command issues -- including Rich Harden's 94-pitch effort in 3 2/3 innings Sunday that featured six walks and two hit batsmen -- the Rangers have gotten just what they've needed from the rotation and the bullpen.
But they haven't had enough from the offensive and defensive sides of the game.
Manager Ron Washington and several Rangers players were quick to point out that the season is just 12 games old. It's like hitting the two-mile mark in Monday's 26.2-mile Boston Marathon.
But you also want to start to get into your pace at that point in the race, and the Rangers aren't quite there yet.
"We have some adjustments we need to make," third baseman Michael Young said when asked to assess his team's first dozen games. "We've showed flashes of the team we're capable of being, and we've showed signs that it's pretty clear that the things we need to work on as a team. It's something we'll continue to talk about. It's something we'll continue to work at."
For Washington, it starts with defense.
"If we just catch the ball, we'll be better," Washington said. "We have to catch the ball."
That has been an issue for the club during its recent four-game losing streak. It started with the eighth inning in the final game in Cleveland. Errors by Young and Elvis Andrus helped the Indians get some baserunners off the otherwise-flawless Matt Harrison, and a three-run homer by Shin-Soo Choo snatched a sweep away from Texas.
A change of venue didn't erase the defensive miscues. Chris Davis hit a runner while trying to turn a difficult double play in the fourth inning Friday at Yankee Stadium, helping the home team break open a tie game. Taylor Teagarden threw a ball into center field trying to catch a runner attempting to steal, helping an additional run come home in Saturday's game. Scott Feldman had to rush a throw on one of three infield hits by the speedy Brett Gardner and pulled Davis off the bag. That continued a long second inning Saturday and helped drive up his pitch count. There were other plays -- some of them questionable, but scored as hits -- that the Rangers could have made but didn't.
Defense isn't the only area where there's room for improvement. The club has scored three or fewer runs in half its games. When the Rangers win, they average six runs. And when they lose? Slightly more than two. The Rangers scored two runs on just four hits Sunday.
As a team, they are hitting .220 with runners in scoring position, ranking near the bottom of the majors.
In need of some sort of spark, Washington is leaning toward making Andrus the leadoff hitter and putting Julio Borbon in the No. 9 spot. The move makes sense. Borbon is hitting .083 (3-for-36), the lowest average for any qualified hitter in the majors. He has great speed but isn't on base enough to use it (.108 on-base percentage). He has just one stolen base in nine games this season after stealing 19 bases in 46 games for the Rangers last season. Hitting ninth might give Borbon a chance to correct some things without the pressure of leading the game off.
Meanwhile, coming into Sunday's game, Andrus was seeing 4.05 pitches per plate appearance, second-most on the team behind power-hitting Nelson Cruz. Those numbers were a half-pitch more than Borbon. Andrus showed patience on Sunday, starting off with a six-pitch out and adding an RBI double and a walk.
Washington hopes that top spot can create a trickle-down effect, allowing the hitters below to feed off Andrus' ability to get on base.
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But other parts of the lineup need to get it going, too. Teagarden is still hitless, starting the season 0-for-18 with 13 strikeouts (and three walks). He is working hard to correct the problem, but the club must decide how patient it is willing to be with him. Matt Treanor started Sunday, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia is beginning a rehab assignment with Triple-A Oklahoma City this week. No doubt the Rangers need more from the catching position.
Davis is still trying to figure out left-handed pitching. He has started the season 1-for-11 against lefties and is hitting .229 overall. Ryan Garko took his place against Andy Pettitte on Sunday and was 0-for-2 with a walk.
Outfielder Josh Hamilton is 1-for-15 in his past four games, dropping his average to .220. He's still looking for his first home run.
There certainly isn't any panic in the Rangers' clubhouse. And Borbon, Teagarden, Davis, Hamilton and others are committed to making the adjustments. Help could be on the way at some point with the return of Ian Kinsler, which would help solidify the middle of the order and the infield.
"We're missing Kinsler totally: the middle of our order, on the base paths, defensively," Washington said. "We miss his presence. He can make a huge difference. We want him to be able to put a stamp on us with everything he does."
Young cautioned that the club has to get its adjustments made and not wait for Kinsler's arrival. The players are working hard to do that. Washington wants to be as patient as he can with them, and there's time to correct things. But the Rangers also want to be sure early troubles don't linger.
"I'm very confident we'll get where we need to be," Young said. "For us, it's a matter of when. We need to make sure we make our adjustments quickly and take pride in the fact that we're not going to repeat the same mistakes and find a way to get better."