Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Buzz: Rangers surviving without Cruz
By Todd Wills
ARLINGTON, Texas -- All that fretting over what would happen to the Texas Rangers' offense when Nelson Cruz was lost because of his suspension proved to be wasted energy.
The Rangers are averaging a major league-best 6.6 runs per game since Cruz, who was leading the team in home runs and RBIs, was suspended Aug. 5 for being linked to the Biogenesis clinic. Repeat that, best in baseball, by half a run over Arizona.
"If Nelson was in that lineup, I think the same thing would have happened," manager Ron Washington said. "I really do. Maybe more because he probably would have produced some of those runs. But the way things set up and got going, the game presented that to us and we rose to the occasion."
The Rangers' blueprint for offense has changed. That's well-documented. But it becomes clearer when analyzing the numbers.
They are third in the majors with a .402 on-base percentage (Cruz had a .330 OBP). They are also third in walk rate with 10.2 bases on balls per nine innings.
Cruz has been missed from a power standpoint. The Rangers have hit six home runs in 13 games, tied for the least in the league.
But it hasn't mattered. The Rangers have scored 15 and 16 runs in two of their past three games on just one home run. They had an 11-run inning in Monday's 16-5 victory.
They have 24 stolen bases with the top two hitters in the lineup, Leonys Martin and Elvis Andrus, combining for 15 of them.
"That's how you can become consistent," Washington said. "A.J. Pierzynski says sometimes the home run can stop momentum. So if guys can go up there and put the ball in play and find a hole and go from first to third, that's the kind of baseball we want to play."
Waking up Pierzynski: Twice on Monday night, the Astros intentionally walked Adrian Beltre to get to Pierzynski. Houston paid for it the second time.
Pierzynski ripped a two-run single in the third inning for a 4-1 lead, igniting an 11-run inning. He also had another RBI single in the inning and the Rangers' first home run in 46 innings later in the game.
"All you're doing is waking up a sleeping dog," Washington said. "If you want to walk Beltre, then wake up Pierzynski."
Piezynski has 15 RBIs in August. He has nine hits in 17 at-bats with runners in scoring position. That's producing in the clutch.
Pierzynski had a season-high four hits Monday, the most by a Rangers catcher since Mike Napoli in 2011. It was the first four-hit game by a Ranger since Cruz did it July 13 in Detroit.
No move anticipated: The Rangers will continue to look at the trade market with Houston's Erik Bedard and Washington's Dan Haren among starting pitchers who have cleared waivers, but don't look for a move to be made.
Texas appears ready to go with Travis Blackley and Alexi Ogando when he comes off the disabled list to fill in as the No. 5 starter.
“I am comfortable with what we’ve got, always looking around but I don’t anticipate anything,” Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. “There are a few guys who have cleared waivers but I’m not optimistic that there’s going to be the right fit between somebody we have interest in that is truly available at a price we think is worth it. So we are fully expecting to go with this group, and I don’t mean that in a negative way -- we like our team.”
Following the plan: Washington said his players executed a handful of plays that weren't called from the dugout Monday night, and he's OK with that.
Washington said he didn't have a hit-and-run on when Andrus ripped a single through the right side of the infield in the first inning. Martin has the green light to run and Andrus was swinging if the pitch was a strike.
"They might have had a plan," Washington said. "It looked like he was certainly trying to hit the hole."
Second baseman Ian Kinsler also bunted on his own with two on in the third inning, getting credit for a sacrifice bunt to move Martin and Andrus to second and third. It gave the Astros a chance to walk Beltre with first base open, and Pierzynski made them pay.
"I don't see anything wrong with those two issues right there," Washington said. "I love the hit-and-run. When I put it on, they don't execute. If they can put and execute it, I'm all good with it. That's the type of baseball I like to play."
Short hops: Beltre is batting .422 since Cruz was suspended Aug. 5. Beltre, who was in the lineup as the DH on Tuesday, is batting .400 for the month. ... Neftali Feliz pitched a scoreless inning for Triple-A Round Rock on Monday night, throwing 17 pitches. Feliz may be in line to throw two innings in his next outing, and Daniels said the target is for him to be ready Sept. 1. ... Daniels also said DH Lance Berkman will return Sept. 1 barring an injury. ... Triple-A Round Rock had 21 hits in a 20-2 victory over Nashville on Monday night. Outfielder Engel Beltre, a likely September call-up for the Rangers, was 4-for-7 with a grand slam and five RBIs. Left fielder Aaron Cunningham hit two homers and also had five RBIs. ... Low A Hickory outfielder Lewis Brinson had a go-ahead two-run home run in the ninth inning Monday for a 5-3 victory for the Crawdads. Brinson, the 29th overall pick in the 2012 MLB Entry Draft, is the first player with 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases in Hickory franchise history.