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Sunday, April 7, 2013
Ian Kinsler's start is encouraging

By Jean-Jacques Taylor
ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Maybe, just maybe, Texas Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler has figured something out in his eighth season in the big leagues.

Maybe, just maybe, he understands that using every part of the field -- as opposed to being a dead-pull hitter -- will place him among the American League's feared hitters.

No one with common sense makes grand proclamations about a baseball season -- good or bad -- after six games. The season is too long in this game of constant adjustments.

Ian Kinsler
Ian Kinsler's three-run home run Sunday night definitely qualifies as one of the big moments of the early season so far for the Rangers.

That said, the right-handed Kinsler delivered a key hit to the opposite field for the second time in three days. Each propelled the Rangers to a win over the hated Los Angeles Angels.

On Friday, it was an eighth-inning RBI single. On Sunday, Kinsler ripped a three-run homer that sneaked over the right-field wall as the Rangers beat the Angels 7-3 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

Kinsler didn't even know the last time he'd homered to right field. The answer: Aug. 15, 2009 against Boston's Brad Penny.

Just so you know, that was 66 homers ago. And 1,332 days ago. And 1,856 at-bats ago.

Go ahead and let that marinate.

This is the approach hitting coaches from Rudy Jaramillo to Clint Hurdle to Scott Coolbaugh to Dave Magadan have wanted Kinsler to embrace. It's easy to understand why he wouldn't.

Like most hitters, his ability to consistently yank the ball out of the park has made him a three-time All-Star. It also made him wealthy after signing a five-year, $75 million extension before the start of last season.

And it made him one of the few second basemen in MLB history to hit 30 homers and steal 30 bases.

By his standard, Kinsler had an average season in 2012. Sure, he scored 105 runs, third in the American League, but he hit only .256 with 19 homers and 72 RBIs.

For a lot of guys that would be fine, but a leadoff hitter with Kinsler's talent must do better than an OPS of .749.

Well, he's off to a good start this season. Kinsler says Magadan, in his first season with the Rangers, deserves much of the credit. Ron Washington says Kinsler deserves it.

That's because Kinsler arrived in spring training ready to embrace change. In Arizona, he worked hard on flattening his swing so he could stay on top of the ball instead of popping the ball up.

Kinsler's swing has a natural uppercut to it, so he must work harder than most to flatten it out. But he has used Magadan's suggestions and merged them with his own to make changes.

"Magadan's been really patient with me," Kinsler said. "He does a good job of explaining things I should do, but he also does a good job of listening to me. That's how it should be. It's an exchange of ideas."

So far, so good.

Kinsler went 3-for-3 with a walk, two runs scored and the game's biggest hit. Oh, and he turned a pivotal double play in the fifth.

In the first inning, Kinsler walked and scored on Lance Berkman's homer to right. In the fourth inning, he lined a two-out single to right, scoring Geovany Soto and pushing the Rangers' lead to 4-2.

The Angels pulled to within a run, but Kinsler made sure they never tied the score. With runners on first and third and one out, Kinsler just wanted to make sure he brought in Soto from third.

Anything else was a bonus.

On a 3-and-2 pitch, Kinsler showed patience he has rarely displayed. Reliever Mark Lowe tried to fool him with a changeup after he'd already thrown it when the count was 3-0.

Kinsler stayed back and hit it where it was pitched, driving it into the right-field stands. It qualifies as one of the season's first big moments.

With all due respect to the Oakland Athletics, the Angels are the team to beat in the American League West. They have dynamic hitters throughout their lineup and Jered Weaver is a legitimate ace.

It was important for the Rangers to win this first series at home. As he rounded first base after homering, Kinsler vigorously pumped his fist.

It's never to early to deliver a message.