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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Elvis Andrus listened as Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez delivered a message. A simple message. And maybe a season-changing one.
The conversation took place in the batting cages of the Rangers Ballpark as the All-Star break was coming to a close and the team was working out.
|Elvis Andrus credits Pudge Rodriguez with helping him take a renewed relaxed approach. "He helped me out a lot ... basically telling me you got that money for the person that you are, so don't ever change that. Just enjoy and relax, and it was true."|
Andrus was searching for answers after a first half that saw him bat just .242. He wasn't hitting in the clutch. He wasn't getting on base. And the eight-year, $120 million contract extension that he had signed five days into the season was weighing on him.
Rodriguez, who rejoined the Rangers in February as a special assistant to the general manager, saw -- like everyone else, from his teammates to his manager to the fans -- that Andrus was burdened.
"I just told him to play his game," Rodriguez said. "The money, he's already earned it. That's his."
Rodriguez has the credentials to speak up. He's been there. The Rangers Hall of Famer made somewhere in the neighborhood of $125 million over his 21-season career.
Rodriguez told Andrus, who will turn 25 on Aug. 26, that he's already earned the big money for his past seasons and two World Series trips, and he should just go out and play and forget the contract. It's not about the money.
"It was good," Andrus said of the conversation. "Sometimes there's a lot of stuff, especially when you sign that big contract, going through your mind. You don't want it to affect you, but sometimes it does.
"He helped me out a lot, basically telling me, 'Don't try to do too much, don't try to be someone else.' He was basically telling me, 'You got that money for the person that you are, so don't ever change that. Just enjoy and relax,' and it was true."
If Andrus' season continues its positive turn -- he has a 13-game hitting streak after Wednesday's game against the Angels, the longest active streak in the majors -- he might look back at his conversation with Rodriguez as the turning point.
Andrus is finally relaxing at the plate. He's getting on base. And although it hasn't led to much because the entire lineup has been slumping, Andrus is slowly starting to make a difference.
"I hope he's through with the feeling he's been having and enjoying the feeling he's starting to have," manager Ron Washington said.
The Andrus who gets on base and creates havoc once he's there is the player the Rangers signed to the big contract extension. The one with the instincts to take off when a pitch is in the dirt and just barely kicks away from the catcher. The one who scores from third while the opposing first baseman argues about a close play.
The Rangers will take all of the above. Add to that his charisma and that Andrus is one of the best defensive shortstops in the game, and the Rangers believe they made a wise investment.
They had a different Andrus before the All-Star break.
Andrus hit .250 in April, then started to pick things up, hitting a crescendo with a 5-for-5 game on May 18 against Detroit. Andrus replaced Ian Kinsler as the leadoff hitter when the Rangers second baseman went on the disabled list.
Kinsler, who signed a five-year contract extension right after the season started last year, understands what Andrus is going through. So does Adrian Beltre.
"Hitting a baseball is difficult enough without feeling the burdens of outside pressure," Kinsler said.
That move to leadoff burdened Andrus even more. Take out the five-hit game, and Andrus hit only .192 in the leadoff spot. He couldn't ignite an offense that was struggling to replace Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli and Michael Young. That's a lot to put on one player's shoulders.
"I was trying to do too much because of all the guys that left the team and you put a little more pressure on yourself," said Andrus, who has gone 517 at-bats without a home run. "A little more of a target on your back. But I can see it differently. It's about going out there and performing the way you do it and help the team as much as you can. ...
"I learned my lesson, and I still have two more months to finish strong."
Andrus said he and Rodriguez have had a handful of talks this season. That day in the cages, Rodriguez offered a few tips as he watched Andrus.
"He doesn't try to change you," Andrus said. "He's pretty good. He likes to teach. When you ask questions, he's out there helping out.
"That's a guy you want to have. He's had success in baseball. You feel bad whenever you don't find something in yourself. As good as his career went, he still had slumps, he still had some tough moments. That's the perfect guy to talk to about, to learn [from] and try to get out of there."
Andrus gets it now.
"He went through that moment, too," Andrus said of Rodriguez. "He got the big money, and he knows. You can say that a thousand times, but if you never went through that, it's going to be hard for me to believe [you] or actually pay attention. ...
"Go out there and keep playing. You don't really have to do too much."