Lineup quandary looms for Rangers with Kinsler’s return

Posted Thursday, Jun. 13, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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lebreton The looming question is, where is Brad Pitt going to be when the Texas Rangers need him?

Who will be the one to sort the impending lineup quandary, as actor Pitt, playing the role of Oakland’s Billy Beane, did so masterfully in the movie Moneyball?

I use the word “masterfully” advisedly, of course. In the movie, Pitt/Beane ruffled the baseball establishment — and especially his own manager, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman — in imposing his will on the Athletics’ daily lineup card.

It was all Hollywood. But sometimes life has to imitate art.

The Rangers need a kick-start — a seismic jolt, to be honest — to their foundering offense. Thursday night’s punchless 3-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays was only the latest example.

By not hitting, they wasted a seven-inning, three-hit, nine-strikeout performance by starter Yu Darvish.

By not hitting, the Rangers allowed the opener of the four-game series to come down to a rare throwing miscue by third baseman Adrian Beltre and a diving attempt by center fielder Leonys Martin that missed by inches.

Inches. When your lineup is sputtering, failure frequently finds itself measured in inches.

Clearly, it’s time for a jolt. But from who? When? And more to the looming point, where?

In Frisco on Thursday night, Ian Kinsler, who’s been out since May 19, began what is expected to be a brief, but resuscitating rehab assignment. Alas, it wasn’t a Roy Hobbs kind of night. Batting in the designated hitter spot for the Double A RoughRiders, Kinsler went hitless in four at-bats and struck out twice.

He is scheduled to start at second base for the next two nights, and then rejoin the Rangers on Sunday.

Where? Why, second base, of course. What in the name of Brad Pitt would make you think otherwise?

Since Kinsler went on the disabled list, the Rangers have won only 10 of 23 games and tumbled into second place. Whether the lineup’s accompanying hitting malaise is merely coincidental or not, Kinsler’s presence at the top of the batting order has been missed.

Shortstop Elvis Andrus has a .190 batting average (16-for-84) in his past 21 games, but he is in no danger of losing his starting job. Andrus began the season with a .275 career batting average and .342 on-base percentage. The tea leaves — that’s a sabermetrics stat I invented — all suggest that Elvis, at age 24, will figure it out.

Who gets to decide the immediate fate, therefore, of rookie Jurickson Profar?

In the 20 games he’s played since replacing Kinsler, 20-year-old Profar has batted .280. He’s been inconsistent, but no more than his experienced teammates.

At times, Profar has shown his age. But most of the time, he has played like a big leaguer.

The slumping Rangers need to be putting their nine best in the lineup each night. Profar has shown he is one of them.

Can the kid play left field?

With the AL West-leading Athletics coming to town, this isn’t the time to worry about stepping on toes. Egos are going to have to take a back seat to winning.

Manager Ron Washington has publicly expressed his reluctance to take his “All-Star” middle infield — Andrus and Kinsler — out of the everyday lineup.

But here we go again. Wasn’t an everyday lineup — as in every day — one of the reasons for the 2012 implosion?

A regular day off for Kinsler, Andrus, Beltre and DH Lance Berkman shouldn’t upset the Rangers’ delicate clubhouse sensitivities.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint, they like to say. A few regular days off, it says here, might keep the Rangers from again wheezing to the finish line.

Wash doesn’t need a spreadsheet to allocate the playing time. Just play the hot hands, wherever they may be. I’ll bet Profar would earn his way into the lineup more times than not.

Scheduled days off are OK, I suppose, but I’ve never understood the wisdom of “resting” a hitter who doesn’t look as if he needs the rest.

If this were Hollywood, Brad Pitt would have an answer, I’ll bet.

Toes may have to be stepped on. But then again, a baseball pennant race is all about toes, isn’t it?

Toes and inches.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gilebreton

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