With storm clouds gathering, Rangers miss Kinsler leading off the most

Posted Thursday, Jun. 06, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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lebreton With each limp into second base and with each twinge of a pitching arm, the Texas Rangers dodge another arrow.

First baseman Mitch Moreland is only the latest to be added to the disabled list. He was preceded in the training room by a virtual parade of essential Rangers — among them, Ian Kinsler, A.J. Pierzynski, Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando and Colby Lewis.

Can it get any worse?

Yes, it can, but that all depends on how big a hammer commissioner Bud Selig wants to wield in the ongoing Biogenesis case. Nelson Cruz’s alleged clinic nickname, Mohamad, somehow found its way onto the business ledger of pseudo-doctor Tony Bosch.

Losing Cruz for two months would be a crippling blow to the Rangers’ pennant hopes. Yes, he can be streaky at the plate and, yes, he sometimes patrols right field like a man chasing a runaway parakeet. But in a lineup devoid this season of Hamiltons and Napolis, Nellie has provided much-needed clout.

He’ll likely know soon whether a 50-game suspension awaits.

For now, the Rangers are struggling enough by having to replace Kinsler.

That’s right — Captain Pop-up.

Say what you want about Kinsler’s occasional fielding or base-running lapses, he plays a premium position at an All-Star level. He appeared to be on his way to his best season when he strained a muscle in his right side May 16.

Yet a funny thing happened. Instead of bemoaning the loss of a three-time All-Star — a second baseman who was batting .302 with an .869 on-base plus slugging percentage — trumpets sounded from some quarters for the arrival of rookie Jurickson Profar.

A sizable brass section, let me suggest, seemed to come from Rangers, Inc., itself.

Fine. I like Profar, too. One day he may be as valuable to the Rangers as … Ian Kinsler.

Kinsler is manager Ron Washington’s leadoff man. For 604 of the 970 games he has played in more than eight major-league seasons, Kinsler has batted first while compiling the following numbers: a .272 average, 105 home runs, 110 stolen bases and an .821 OPS.

Do you know who else averaged around 15 homers a season and batted .279 with an .820 career OPS? Rickey Henderson, the greatest leadoff hitter ever.

I’m not saying Kinsler is Rickey Henderson. I’m just saying his value to the Rangers is oftentimes underappreciated, especially for his role in the batting order.

Kinsler left the lineup May 17, and the Rangers ended play Thursday night with a 9-9 record since he departed.

In his place, shortstop Elvis Andrus has not adequately picked up the baton in the leadoff spot. Since Kinsler went out, Andrus entered Thursday with a .242 average and a .301 on-base percentage. If you take out the 5 for 5 night that Elvis had on May 18, his numbers fall to a .180 batting average and a .447 OPS with only two stolen bases in that span.

Andrus will hit eventually. As he gets older and stronger, his hitting likely will continue to improve.

But in the meantime, he’s been a leadoff man who can’t get on base for the past three weeks. Runs for the Rangers have seemed harder to come by.

One day, perhaps, the job will belong to Profar or Leonys Martin. Elvis should have a long career as the No. 2 batter in the Rangers’ lineup.

For now, though, losing Kinsler has been the arrow that the Rangers haven’t dodged. And he won’t return until at least the end of this month.

Historically throughout his career, Kinsler has returned from the injury list and regained his batting stroke quickly. Historically, too, however, Kinsler’s production has dropped off in the second half of the season, as has Moreland’s.

The Cruz mess looks like more storm clouds to come.

All told, that’s a lot to expect kids such as Profar, Martin, Chris McGuiness and Mike Olt to have to overcome.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton

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