Rangers have some gloves now to go with all those bats

Updated: July 20, 2009

Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire

Elvis Andrus has been a key ingredient as the Rangers have blended defense with power this year.

Rangers president Nolan Ryan has a master plan for this organization. Historically Texas has been a hit-first, pitch-second club, but the Rangers are a lot more balanced now. You'll also notice they are someplace they haven't been in a long time: in contention.

The plan is coming together. I wrote about this back in May. Hiring pitching coach Mike Maddux has been a big part of their success. But something else about this team that is tough to overlook is the defense. Playing great defense is not without its risks, however.

Josh Hamilton was one of the stories of the year last season. This season has been a struggle for him. He's been hurt after he tried to move some walls out there in the outfield. We found out that he's not Superman. But he's healthy now for the Rangers. Michael Young is coming off his sixth straight All-Star Game, and he's starting at another position (third base) after winning the Gold Glove at shortstop last year. It wouldn't surprise me if he ends up as an All-Star first baseman before he's finished. For a guy to have such success at one position and agree to move shows you how much of a team player he is. He has done that not once, but twice.

The reason Young is now at third is Elvis Andrus. You know it takes a special talent to supplant a Gold Glove player for defensive reasons, but Andrus has done that. The impact he has on a game defensively is tough to overstate. We've seen plenty of players get overhyped, but that hasn't been the case with him. He has tremendous defensive talent and charisma, and he has learned how to handle himself in the big leagues from manager Ron Washington. Young's move to third base has made the team better. As good as Young was at short, Andrus has superior range and an amazing arm.

In the past, the Rangers would try to overcome errors by waiting around for a home run, but they don't play that way anymore. They turn double plays as well as anyone, and they don't rely on the long ball as much. They do have a few guys who can still provide power. Even though Hamilton has struggled, he remains a threat; plus Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler have kept the homers coming.

Young catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia has been a big plus for them this year, as well. I recently saw him working on a defensive drill that I had never seen before. He crouches about eight feet from a wall, and a coach stands behind him and throws a tennis ball at the wall. Saltalamacchia has to either get down and block it or frame the ball if it's on one of the corners. He does this in the weight room to warm up and get sharp before every game. Because Saltalamacchia is so big (6-4), the team was afraid he might wear down in the course of the season; in fact, Nike made him a special set of shin guards to help take pressure off his knees. He's a young catcher spending more time behind the plate than ever, and this has helped him.

Although their new mindset has gotten them this far, the Rangers will see whether general manager Jon Daniels and the front office can keep it rolling. If the Rangers hope to take a real shot at an American League West title, they probably will need to make moves to stay with the Angels, a team obviously not afraid to spend money. In fact, when I've spoken to Angels owner Arte Moreno in the past, he has told me he doesn't consider it spending when he brings in new talent; he considers it investing. He plans to make all that money back and more.

The Rangers reportedly are having trouble with their payroll as it is, so that might prevent them from adding outside pieces at the deadline. They do have some minor league players to call up who could be real difference-makers. I bet that within the week, you'll see Neftali Feliz in their bullpen. Feliz, Andrus and Saltalamacchia are all guys the Rangers got back in the Mark Teixeira trade with Atlanta. Feliz really impressed at the Futures Game. He looked as if he was playing catch, and his stuff was about 98 mph. With that kind of velocity, he'll be a late-inning guy the rest of the way for Texas. Chris Davis and Justin Smoak could be two guys you'll see as well if Cruz misses any extended time with his broken finger. With the improved pitching staff and strong hitting, the Rangers are a threat this season. Still it's funny that, after years of trying to slug their way into October while playing in one of the best hitters' parks in the majors, the Rangers might glove their way in.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: July 19 | July 16 | July 15 | June 14 | June 13

TOUCH 'EM ALL

Touch 'Em AllWho went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page.

For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

Home Run Tracker
NAME HR OPPPITCHER SITUATION
N. Markakis, Bal10NYYPettitteTop 1: 0-1, 1 Outs. None on.
R. Ibanez, Phi25ChCLillyBot 1: 2-2, 2 Outs. 2 on.
E. Hinske, NYY5BalHernandezBot 2: 2-0, 0 Outs. None on.
C. Ruiz, Phi4ChCLillyBot 2: 1-2, 0 Outs. 1 on.
G. Anderson, Atl7SFSanchezBot 2: 0-0, 1 Outs. None on.

The complete list of Monday's homers

ON DECK: TUESDAY'S BEST MATCHUPS

Indians at Blue Jays, 7 p.m. ET

Could this be one of Cliff Lee's final starts with the Indians? The lefty's name has been tossed into the rumor mill as the July 31 trade deadline closes in. He leads the AL in losses (9), but is first in the league in innings pitched (136) and seventh in ERA (3.31).

Mariners at Tigers, 7 p.m. ET

The Mariners are still lurking in the AL West despite an offense that is next-to-last in the league in runs scored. Only Kansas City has scored fewer runs. Seattle has relied on its pitching staff, which coincidentally has the best ERA in the American League.

Red Sox at Rangers, 8:05 p.m. ET

Josh Beckett closed out the first half of the season with his second complete-game shutout in five starts. Beckett allowed only three hits against the Royals. Four starts earlier, he limited Atlanta to five hits.

For the rest of Tuesday's schedule, click here.

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BBTN ON THE AIR: TUESDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
10 p.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: John Kruk, Fernando Vina, Peter Gammons
12 a.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: John Kruk, Fernando Vina, Peter Gammons

BBTN MINUTE: LEE'S LAST DAYS IN CLEVELAND?

SIMON SAYS

Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep, looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight, he looks at Atlanta's Tommy Hanson, who struck out 11 in a 11-3 win against the Giants. The victory improved Hanson to 5-0 for the year.

Braves pitchers with 11+ Ks
7 IP or fewer (since 1991)
Kevin Millwood 3
John Smoltz 2
Tommy Hanson 1
Greg Maddux 1
Four others 1

WEB GEMS

MONDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
MorneauJustin Morneau hit two homers and drove home seven runs against the A's … in the first three innings. Morneau drilled a grand slam in the second and followed it up with a three-run shot in the third.
WORST
LillyTed Lilly, the Cubs' lone All-Star, didn't pitch like much of a star to open the second half. He was hammered for eight hits and nine runs in four innings of a 10-1 loss against the Phillies. The rough start had the Cubs down 9-0 early, and allowed Philadelphia to cruise to its ninth straight win.

NUMBERS TO KNOW

Max Scherzer With Brandon Webb injured, Diamondbacks righty Dan Haren has been the leader of the staff. Flying under the radar, though, has been Max Scherzer, who heads to the hill Tuesday. Scherzer has a sub-.500 record, but his ERA ranks him just outside the top 20 in the NL. He's in the top 20 in strikeouts and in strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Scherzer throws his fastball almost 75 percent of the time, and he has had great success with it. He has a batting average against that's below league average and a much higher than average swing-and-miss percentage. Almost 80 percent of Scherzer's strikeouts come from his fastball, the highest rate in the majors among qualified pitchers.

Scherzer's main weakness right now is his walk rate, which sits right on the NL average of 3.6 per nine innings pitched. This doesn't bode well for his start Tuesday against the Colorado Rockies. Entering play Monday, the Rockies had walked 367 times, most in the National League.

Scherzer has done better with the walk rate in his past six starts, averaging two walks per start and walking a better than league average 7.6 percent of the batters he has faced and throwing strikes on 64.3 percent of his pitches, above the league average of 62.3.

Max Scherzer's fastball (2009)
Fastball MLB avg.
Pitch pct. 73.4 63.6
BA against .257 .282
Miss pct. 25.7 14.3
Strikeout pct. 79.4 46.5

-- ESPN Stats & Information

HALL OF FAME BY THE NUMBERS: NO. 20

FANTASY: PREVIEW OF TUESDAY'S GAMES

Adam Madison examines the 15 games on Tuesday's slate.

Fantasy Madison ranks the pitchers scheduled to take the mound and supplies loads of other information that could help shape your roster for Tuesday. Daily Notes