ARLINGTON, Texas -- Ron Washington is managing with one goal in mind: To get the Texas Rangers ready for the stretch drive and postseason.
Yes, even in the middle of May, Washington is thinking about the big picture. That's not to say he doesn't keep his players focused on the present and attempt to win every series they play. But when it comes to having his team fully prepared for the heat of a pennant race in September, Washington sees value in putting together a plan now.
That includes rest. Right now. He watches his players every day and seems to understand when they need a mental break, and he doesn't hesitate to give it to them. If that means sitting two regulars in the same game, so be it.
Monday it was Ian Kinsler and Mike Napoli. Tuesday it was Nelson Cruz and Elvis Andrus. And Wednesday was Michael Young's turn to get a night off, even after Ian Kinsler was a late scratch because of a stomach virus.
Even Josh Hamilton must sit too. He's out of Thursday's starting lineup.
Haven't two World Series appearances built enough trust in Washington's methods for Rangers fans?
Perhaps no manager in the majors has a better sense of the pulse of his team than Washington.
When the Rangers need a swift kick in the rear, he's more than willing to do the kicking. If he feels they need a boost, he'll shower them with compliments even when it seems like it's the last thing they deserve. In the end, no one gets more from his team than Washington.
So if the manager thinks his starters need a break, trust him.
These aren't the Dallas Cowboys. They don't play just 16 games in a season, in which one loss could be the difference between making the playoffs or sitting at home. We're talking about 162 games here. Yes, every game counts in the standings. But the reality is Washington knows he's got a contender on his hands. The biggest dangers to derailing the club's quest for a World Series are injuries and fatigue. That's what he's guarding against.
Washington knows the criticism is out there. His detractors perceive that he's waving his own white towel of sorts, piecing together a lineup that clearly lacks some big punchers in the hopes of winning games anyway. And when the Rangers lose those games -- as they did Monday and Tuesday to a Kansas City Royals team that is improving but certainly isn't a contender -- it only increases the questions.
The thought of taking Hamilton, the favorite for the AL MVP Award, out of the lineup in the next few days would seem counterproductive to many. But Washington doesn't see it that way.
"I don't think I react to what people think about resting players," Washington said. "They see games every day, but they're not a part of the grind and the mental strain and the things you go through for six months to play this game."
It's something Washington has learned through experience as a player and coach for more than four decades in this game.
Even his players have warmed up to it. Sure, they say they want to play all the time. But when he tells them they are getting a night off, they don't fight as much. They trust their manager. Young spent Wednesday getting some extra time in batting practice and taking grounders in the field, using the day off to get work in physically while giving his mind a rest.
Washington explained Wednesday his reasons for resting so many of his starters this week. It starts with the fact that Texas is in the middle of a stretch of 20 straight games without an off day. Factor in that the club had to play a doubleheader in Baltimore that started four games in a period of about 48 hours late last week, and Washington could tell his team was dragging.
"I don't play and I'm tired," Washington said.
So after the series against the AL West rival Los Angeles Angels ended Sunday, Washington decided it was time to rest some of his big guns.
"As I said in spring training on the first day, we're only going to go as far as those guys that I'm resting right now can take us," Washington said. "That's how far we're going to go. If we don't take care of them, then it's going to be hard to take care of us, meaning the Texas Rangers.
"We've got to take care of them, because if any of those guys are out for any period of time, we're in trouble. They are the reason why we are where we are. We can't go any place without them being healthy. We have a tough schedule so far. Hopefully after that off day on [May] the 24th, we get some off days and things flow better."
This is one of the worst scheduling stretches of the season for the Rangers. Washington knows it. He also knows that when August and September roll around, when the Rangers are playing AL contenders and AL West opponents, he will need his team at full strength.
Washington knows from experience that resting them now can pay dividends later. It's time to trust the man, folks.