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Texas looks for proper aggressiveness on bases

4/13/2014

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Texas Rangers outfielder Alex Rios said he was simply trying to make a play. After a run-scoring double, Rios wanted to get himself to third base as the tying run in the eighth to put more pressure on the Houston Astros.

But with no outs in the inning and Prince Fielder at the plate, that wasn't the time to try anything risky.

"That was just a poor decision on his part," manager Ron Washington said. "You just did a great thing hitting a double to put us back in the ballgame, and we've got Prince up there, a left-handed hitter. Just a poor decision."

Rios was thrown out easily at third base, and it killed a Rangers rally. Michael Choice ended up tying the game in the ninth with a home run, but Texas lost 6-5 in 10 innings after the Astros scored the go-ahead run thanks in large part to a strange hop on a triple by Jason Castro. Rios was involved in that play, too, as the ball bounced oddly off the wedge wall in right and rolled around the base of the wall.

It seemed that Saturday's game just found Rios, the club's No. 3 hitter with Adrian Beltre out. He came up in the 10th with Elvis Andrus at second and hit a ball that appeared to be a hit until shortstop Jonathan Villar made a terrific backhand diving play to stop it and throw Rios out at first. The Rangers ended up stranding Andrus at third base as the game ended.

As for the baserunning blunder in the eighth, Rios agreed with his manager's assessment.

"I was trying to be aggressive and try to make things easier for the hitters, but sometimes, you try to make things easier, you make them a little harder for them to do their job," Rios said. "In that situation, you have to let the course flow naturally and let them do what they have to do. I just was a little bit too aggressive."

The Rangers have put an emphasis on aggressive baserunning, and many times it gives them an important edge. Andrus took an extra base on a dirt ball in the 10th and at least got himself to third base with one out to give Kevin Kouzmanoff a chance to drive him in with a fly ball. It didn't work out, but that kind of play puts pressure on the defense and gives the Rangers' offense an opportunity to do something.

But sometimes, that aggression can kill rallies, like it did for Rios in the eighth on Saturday. At other times, the club has struggled to make the proper decisions on the bases. On Friday, Kouzmanoff didn't get a great read and froze at second on a double by Mitch Moreland. If he had read it off the bat, perhaps he would have had a chance to score. Shin-Soo Choo also stayed at second on a dribbler in front of the plate on Friday where he could have gone to third.

Those plays might not matter if the Rangers had their full lineup and were pounding the ball. But they're not, and it's putting them in close games, even against an Astros team that was a distant last in the AL West last season. So in one-run games, every 90 feet counts. That can be a good thing when you're taking that extra base and a bad thing when your attempt fails in a key situation.

"You have to see where the game is at," Rios said when asked about finding the line of aggressiveness that you can't cross. "In that situation, it was 5-4 with no outs and the middle of the lineup coming up, so it's something where I should have stayed at second and let them do their job."

In fairness to Rios, he's been critical for this team early. He's hitting .302 with a team-high seven RBIs and has played a key role as the No. 5 hitter and, now with Beltre out, in the 3-hole. He's also made his share of smart decisions on the bases, too.

But when you're fighting for close wins at home, every decision -- especially late -- becomes even more important. The Rangers are still trying to make those plays more consistently early in the season.