Rangers reax: Smoak tests club's patience
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Rangers gave Chris Davis 48 at-bats before shipping him to the minors with a .188 average. His replacement, Justin Smoak, after a 1-for-21 homestand, is batting .165 in 97 big-league plate appearances
How much longer can Texas stand the pain of getting no offensive production from their first baseman?
"I think you'll find that out when we know," manager Ron Washington said after Sunday's 5-4 loss to the Chicago Cubs. "Right now, we're with Smoak."
The 23-year-old had been on a modest upswing a couple of weeks ago, taking his average from .067 to .197. But, in his last 15 games, Smoak is 6-for-47. He was 0-for-10 in the Cubs series and 0-for-4 Sunday when he struck out in his final at-bat in the eighth inning and he didn't make good contact in any of his first three at-bats.
As the Rangers begin an eight-game road trip in Kansas City on Tuesday, Smoak said he's simply trying to focus while trying to allow his mind not to grind on his slump.
"When things aren't going good, you always try to think about something you can do better, something you can do to get right," Smoak said. "Right now, it's just been one of those things where I'm hitting the ball, but I'm not squaring anything up. I've said it a million times, but I've just got to do it, is just slow the game down. I've had a hard time with just trying to do too much."
Smoak is the No. 7 hitter in the bottom third of the lineup that is struggling mightily. On Sunday, nine-hole hitter Julio Borbon offered up the only two hits among 11 at-bats among he, Smoak and catcher Matt Treanor, who was 0-for-3 with a walk. Smoak, who has four home runs and 11 RBIs on the season, flied out to left with one on and no outs in the second inning, bounced into a fielder's choice in the same situation in the fourth, popped out to shortstop in the sixth and struck out in the eighth with Texas needing a run to tie.
"I don't think it's that big of a deal, he's a rookie," said Michael Young, who, conversely, is blistering at the plate with a .483 homestand. "I think what he's finding out right now is the big leagues is really hard. I went through it, everyone went through it. It's not easy up here. The guys who are the most mentally tough are the ones who are going to survive and ultimately play really well. We have a lot of confidence in the world that he's going to be one of those guys. I'm sure it's a frustrating part for him, but he knows his teammates are here and, fortunately, we have a strong lineup where he doesn't feel like he has to do all of the work."
That's of little consolation to Smoak, who isn't interested in swapping spots with Davis, who was hitting .327 at Triple-A Oklahoma City through Saturday. Smoak, who has shown patience at the plate and has drawn 17 walks, said after seeing a steady diet of fastballs when he first arrived, he's having trouble hitting offspeed pitches. He refused to use it as an excuse for his sinking average.
"Nothing's different. In college and the minor leagues I saw a lot of offspeed pitches and early on when I first got here I was getting a lot of heaters," Smoak said. "I think I've proven that I can hit a fastball, now it's just going back and getting the offspeed pitches. I've got to find an approach where I see the ball better."
That begins Tuesday at Kansas City.
"If I could do anything to help this team win," Smoak said, "that's what I should be doing."
**C.J. Wilson got ahead 0-2 on three batters in the Cubs' four-run first inning and gave up hits to all of them. The worst in Wilson's mind was the two-run homer Alfonso Soriano sent into the left-field bleachers to give the Cubs a 4-0 lead after five batters.
In the sixth inning, one which Wilson would not complete, nine-hole batter Koyie Hill hit Wilson's first pitch into right field for what turned out to be the deciding run.
"He fisted a ball to right field. It wasn't like he hit it over the fence. It wasn't like the Soriano ball. That's the one I want back," Wilson said. "One run on a single with two outs, the runners going on contact, that's going to happen. Obviously, the walk to Soriano started the whole thing, but it wasn't like really anything else selection-wise or anything like that I would change. The only pitch I would take back is the Soriano pitch, but that's a lesson learned for the rest of the season."
**Reliever Frank Francisco is on a roll. He extended his scoreless innings streak to eight with one inning of perfect relief. After striking out Alfonso Soriano, Xavier Nady and Jeff Baker in order -- all swinging -- in the eighth, Francisco recorded 15 of 22 outs by way of strikeout during the seven-game homestand.
"I just had two bad games at the beginning [of the season] and just like that I'm the same guy," said Francisco, referring to a couple of blown saves early on that ousted him from his closer spot.
Francisco said he was having placement issues with his fastball early in the season and that his other pitches weren't breaking coming out of spring training. He said he feels like everything is coming together as he seems to be entrenched as a set-up man for Neftali Feliz.
"I just want opportunity to go out there and pitch and whatever happens, happens," Francisco said. "I just want to go in any situation. That's the only way I can help my team to win."
**In the bottom of the eighth inning, Washington pinch-hit left-handed hitter David Murphy for lefty Borbon to face Cubs southpaw Sean Marshall with Treanor on first and two outs. Borbon had two singles in the game, but with the Rangers trailing, 5-4, and down to four outs, Washington said he was looking for the long ball.
"I was looking for a bomb," Washington said. "Of all the guys I have, I felt like he [Murphy] was the one that could catch something, and if he didn't catch it he could do what he did, get the count close and maybe draw a walk, get to the top of the lineup."
Washington said he preferred Murphy to bat against the lefty rather than pinch-hit with right-handed Max Ramirez, which Washington felt would have prompted Cubs manager Lou Piniella to go to right-handed closer Carlos Marmol.
Murphy, however, struck out swinging to end the eighth inning.
That Washington had to go the lefty Murphy against a lefty shows the depth issue the Rangers face.
**Washington argued the safe-at-home call made by home plate umpire Jerry Meals in the sixth inning. Nady barely beat the throw from Rangers right fielder Nelson Cruz, scoring the Cubs' final run on Hill's single.
"He got his hand in there," Washington said Meals told him.
It did appear on replay that Nady got his hand across the plate before Treanor could get his glove down.
**Left-hander Matt Harrison (shoulder tendinitis) will head to Double-A Frisco and pitch Monday and Wednesday. If he's ready, he'll join the Rangers on the road Friday as part of the bullpen, Washington said.
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