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Sunday, August 29, 2010
Rangers stood ground through injuries

By Richard Durrett

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington knew more adversity was coming his team's way after the All-Star break.

Just before the club scattered for the four-day break that ends the unofficial first half of the season, Washington predicted his team would suffer some injuries and its mental fortitude would be tested.

"I knew how we handle that would decide how competitive we could be down the stretch and if we could be in position to win the division," Washington said. "I think we've handled it pretty well."

The Rangers start a 10-game road trip in Kansas City on Monday with a 7.5-game lead in the AL West. Sure, the club had an opportunity to effectively end any hopes the Oakland Athletics had of pulling off a big comeback in the division. But as well as the A's are pitching right now, that wasn't an easy proposition.

Oakland threw a steady diet of left-handed pitching -- Texas' kryptonite right now -- and took two of three in Arlington over the weekend. The Rangers went 2-3 in facing five straight lefties to end the homestand and are 3-8 against the last 11 left-handed starters they've faced.

The good news: Relief is on the way.

Nelson Cruz returns to the lineup Monday after his 15-day stint on the disabled list. Ian Kinsler, out since late July, is expected to take over his second-base spot starting Friday in Minnesota. Cruz and Kinsler are two of the club's best hitters against left-handed pitching. And their return means Washington can set up the lineup how he intends to utilize it should the Rangers reach the postseason.

"I'm just glad we got through this string in decent shape," Washington said.

The degree to which a team loses top players differs, but the injury cloud finds a way to make the sky gray and dampen the mood of all the teams at some point during the course of a 162-game season. It got the Rangers even before spring training ended, forcing Derek Holland and Tommy Hunter to start the season in the minors and Kinsler to miss the first month of the season.

Recovering from early-season injuries, however, is much different from recovering from the ones that grab you when the games get tougher in the dog days of summer. The Rangers held their own the first two months of the season and then jumped all over the competition in June, with much of the club healthy and the schedule favorable.

But Washington looked like a prophet when Kinsler went back on the disabled list in late July with a left groin strain. Two weeks later, Nelson Cruz felt his hamstring tighten as he headed toward third base against the Red Sox in a big series in Arlington. All of a sudden, Washington was without two of his best hitters.

"We knew we had to survive it," Washington said.

That's what the Rangers have managed to do.

On July 28, the day after Kinsler was taken out and eventually put on the DL with the groin troubles, the Rangers were 7.5 games up on the A's in the standings.

That's exactly where they are today. Since Kinsler's gone on the DL for the second time, the club has hit .261 and is scoring 4.1 runs per game. It has gone 14-16.

Those aren't great numbers, certainly. But when you consider that included a long West Coast trip against the Angels, Mariners and A's, plus series against the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays, not to mention first-place Minnesota, the Rangers did a good job to keep the lead from shrinking.

"I think the attitude on this team helped to make sure we didn't go into any kind of tailspin," Washington said. "That attitude goes from the players and through the coaches and front office. We trust everybody on this team that they can step up and play when guys are out. And we've seen that."

Andres Blanco
When injuries created an opening for Andres Blanco to get more playing time, he took advantage of the opportunity.

Andres Blanco is one example. Second base was a major concern. So much so that the Rangers traded for Cristian Guzman just before the non-waiver deadline, hoping he could provide a steady hand. Instead, Guzman didn't hit and then landed on the DL himself.

The Rangers turned to Joaquin Arias for a few games, but he couldn't provide consistent enough defense. Blanco wasn't tearing it up either as he was thrust into the position, but as he got the chance to play every day, he's started to hit the ball to go along with his good defense. That kind of play should give him confidence in whatever role he may play as the season finishes.

David Murphy was hitting the ball well and earning more playing time before the Cruz injury. But Cruz's absence has allowed the team to see Mitch Moreland play some right field and given Julio Borbon a chance to see the field more often.

There's little doubt, however, as to how much this lineup has missed Kinsler and Cruz. Getting both of them back this week immediately makes the team better and helps an offense that has slowed down its early-season run-scoring pace.

Their impact is even larger, though, because the Rangers were able to survive Washington's prophesy and not allow things to slip away in the division.

"Now we have to get these guys back and stay focused on what's in front of us," Washington said.

Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.