Saturday, May 26, 2012
What's up with Elvis Andrus bunting so much?
By Tim MacMahon
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Elvis Andrus took advantage of his opportunity to swing away in a clutch at-bat.
Josh Hamilton's walk-off homer will dominate the highlights and discussion of the Rangers' 13th-inning rally, but Andrus' RBI double to the left-center gap put Hamilton in position to beat the Blue Jays.
"The more that I play, the more I feel able to do like I did in that last inning, to hit that ball in the gap," said Andrus, who is hitting a career-high .302 and is on pace to roar past his previous best RBI total with 22 in the season's first 47 games.
Andrus didn't get a chance to drive the ball in his previous two at-bats. He followed orders to lay down sacrifice bunts after Ian Kinsler reached base to lead off the ninth and 11th innings.
"That was a lot, a lot, a lot of bunting," said Andrus, who also bunted in the first inning. "I kind of wonder if that was a record for sacrifices. But, you know, that's my job. Whenever they ask me for it, I'll be there to help my team."
Andrus' success swinging the bat isn't the only reason that asking him to bunt so often is an interesting strategy by manager Ron Washington. The Rangers are essentially extending an invitation for opponents to intentionally walk Josh Hamilton, the clear MVP frontrunner at this point of the season, by moving the runner to second base and leaving first open.
Toronto accepted that invitation in the ninth inning, walking Hamilton and getting out of the inning unscathed after an Adrian Beltre flyout and Michael Young groundout. The Blue Jays opted to let lefty Darren Oliver pitch to Hamilton in the 11th and lived to tell about it, as he grounded out to first base after Kinsler advanced to third on a wild pitch, failing to drive in what would have been the game-winning run with one out.
The Blue Jays pitched to Hamilton again after Andrus' double in the 13th, but the circumstances were much different in that situation. He represented the winning run with no outs .. and ended up scoring it with a walk-off homer.
Washington is well aware that opponents will often opt to walk Hamilton if Andrus lays down a sacrifice bunt. Washington just doesn't care, expressing confidence that Beltre and Young can make teams pay for pitching to them.
"I'm not worried about them putting Hamilton on the bag," Washington said. "I've got Beltre and Michael Young coming. They're quality hitters. They drive in runs and drive in big runs, so if they want to walk Hamilton, go ahead.
"If you look at the at-bats Hamilton had earlier in the game, they certainly weren't productive, so I wasn't worried about them walking Hamilton. I did what I had to do to get other guys up there and get a run closer to home plate."
But Andrus swinging away worked much better than bunting.