Bosley preaches 'efficient' aggression
Hitting coach wants Rangers to take advantage of pitches they can handlie
ARLINGTON, Texas -- There's one word Texas Rangers hitting coach Thad Bosley says he won't ever say to his hitters: Patience.
Don't get the wrong idea. Bosley loves long at-bats and working pitchers. He just doesn't want his team thinking that way.
"I talk about being efficient and staying aggressive in the strike zone," Bosley said. "If guys do that and learn what pitches they can hit, they'll become patient at the plate. But you can't go up there thinking, 'I've got to be patient.'
"If you see a pitch you can drive, hit it. We want to stress hitting that ball hard and getting as much from that opportunity as possible."
The Rangers' offense has piled up 32 extra-base hits, including 13 homers, and has been a big reason for the team's 6-0 start. The hitters will tell you the club's 2.83 ERA and solid defense are critical, too -- and they're right. But this offense, at least early this season, has shown an ability to make the most out of mistakes by the opposing pitcher.
"We want to go up there to hit balls hard," Michael Young said. "Your best chance to do that is a pitch in a strike zone. The more you do that, the more you find yourself in better hitters' counts. That will pay off in the long run."
Just because the Rangers are aggressive doesn't mean they aren't patient. And Bosley monitors that plate discipline by keeping track of the club's five-pitch at-bats.
"We see how we've done on those at-bats and then how the guy on deck has done after the pitcher has had to battle a little out there," Bosley said. "We do well deeper in those counts. But we get there because we didn't get a pitch we could hit early in the count, worked to get in a better count and then got something to drive."
The Rangers have had 71 plate appearances that went at least five pitches (11.8 per game), according to ESPN Stats & Information. They are hitting .293 in those at-bats with a 1.198 OPS. Their batting average in those situations is 82 points higher than the league average.
Ian Kinsler led the way Wednesday, earning a 10-pitch walk against Seattle's Felix Hernandez in the first inning, setting the tone that the club was going to make the Mariners' ace work. Kinsler has taken 63.2 percent of the 125 pitches he's seen. That's after taking 54 percent over the past three seasons.
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It's all led to a team that has scored more runs than anyone in the AL and is hitting nearly every mistake thrown its way -- early or late in the count.
During spring training, Bosley stressed driving the ball and putting guys in scoring position by turning singles into doubles and doubles into triples. Last season, the Rangers had 455 extra-base hits, 92 fewer than the previous season. They were 17th in the league just two seasons removed from holding the No. 1 spot in that category. Bosley felt the reason was pitch selection and not driving balls in the hitting zone.
The two best examples of the Rangers' rediscovered penchant for pounding out doubles, triples and homers are Elvis Andrus and Julio Borbon. Bosley referenced them repeatedly this spring when talking about guys with the ability to do more with their plate appearances. Both are doing so early in 2011. Andrus and Borbon had four extra-base hits between them from Sept. 1 through the end of the season in 2010. Both players had drops in that category in 2010 from what they did in 2009.
But through six games, Andrus and Borbon have already showed signs of getting more from the pitches they can hit. Borbon has two triples in 11 at-bats. He had four career triples in 183 at-bats before this season. Andrus, who didn't hit a home run in 2010, has already done that and added two doubles and a triple in 20 at-bats.
"I know I'm capable of driving the ball," Borbon said. "I want to fire at the ball rather than punch it. Anytime balls are put in the gap, I know I can get extra-base hits from them. That's something I want to stay on top of all season, and that way I can get into scoring position a lot more often than last year."
Bosley loves to say the word "whack" when describing what he wants his hitters to do. And that's what they're doing.
"If we get that pitch to hit then, 'whack,' we take it and we drive it as hard as we can," Bosley said. "Look at this lineup. These guys can drive the ball. When that pitcher gives us a pitch to hit, 'whack,' we've got to take advantage."
What Bosley brings to the Rangers is, in his own words, a combination of his two predecessors in Texas -- Rudy Jaramillo and Clint Hurdle. Jaramillo stressed the mechanics of the swing and Hurdle focused on situational hitting. Bosley attempts to meld the two together by preaching efficiency. For Bosley, that means having a good eye to discern which pitches are good ones to hit and taking full advantage of them.
"It's hitting the ball to the big part of the field," said manager Ron Washington, who can be heard yelling that even as he throws batting practice before games. "If you do that, you can make things happen."
The long ball doesn't hurt, either. Texas has 13 homers through the first six games, tied with the Yankees for the most in the majors going into Thursday's games. More than half of them belong to Nelson Cruz (4) and Ian Kinsler (3).
"We have a lot of guys that are capable of producing runs," Kinsler said. "We have a lot of guys that can run and hit for power. It's a very versatile offense. We're going to try to continue to put pressure on opposing teams."
The Rangers will take their offensive act on the road for the first time this season, facing the red-hot Baltimore Orioles before heading to Detroit and then New York to face the Yankees. It means they'll get to do something they haven't done yet this season: Bat in the ninth inning.
"We need to make sure we take our same approach no matter where we are," Andrus said. "We want to have good at-bats every time and make things happen."
ESPN Stats & Information's Vincent Masi and Mark Malzewski contributed to this column.
Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter.