Elvis Andrus always has a response to any and all questions from a reporter. He’s so media-friendly that he comes up with something even though it might not be the definitive answer.That was the case until recently for his early season hitting woes.Traditionally hot in the first half, Andrus is hitting only .237 but believes with absolute certainty that a surge is on the horizon.With hitting coach Dave Magadan’s help, a small mechanical flaw has been unearthed in Andrus’ swing. But he also points to another reason for an impending turnaround:Ian Kinsler is back atop the lineup.That isn’t an indictment that Andrus can’t handle hitting leadoff, which he did while Kinsler was on the disabled list for almost a full month, and Andrus alone is hardly the only Texas Rangers player who has benefited from the second baseman’s return.An argument can be made that every player has gotten a lift since Kinsler was reinstated June 15. The Rangers have gone 6-3 since and are riding a five-game winning streak into a three-game series that begins Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium.“He’s the straw that stirs the drink,” manager Ron Washington said, borrowing liberally from the not-so-humble Reggie Jackson self-evaluation. “I’ve never doubted that.”Granted, Kinsler hasn’t thrown a pitch, and he wasn’t the only impact batter who was out of the lineup during the Rangers’ tailspin that saw them lose six straight and 9 of 11. But all facets have improved since Kinsler was activated after a two-game rehab stint with Double A Frisco on June 13-14.The pitching staff has posted a 2.80 ERA during the five-game winning streak. The starters’ ERA is a tidy 3.64, though it is 5.26 in the nine games since Kinsler’s return. Even that’s an improvement, though.The offense as a whole is hitting .261 with 38 runs in the first nine games with Kinsler back, far better than the .218 clip and 24 runs over the final nine without him. Kinsler has batted .314 with a .390 on-base percentage and seven RBIs.“He can do everything, and he gets us going,” Washington said. “When he’s on the base, it makes Elvis feel better. It makes everybody else feel better.”The Rangers, who were 11-14 with Kinsler on the DL, are also playing with more energy. They could have been recharged by a meeting with the manager after the sixth straight loss June 16, but don’t think for a minute that Kinsler’s presence hasn’t helped rev up the club.“I’m just trying to provide some energy and bring some excitement and passion to the game,” Kinsler said. “I mostly just try to lead by example and make sure that I’m playing the game with an intense kind of attitude, and hopefully that rubs off on the guys.”Even Andrus wasn’t playing with his usual energy, Kinsler said, partly because of his struggles. Andrus is only 4 for 32 (.125) since Kinsler came off the disabled list, but he can already tell a difference with his double-play partner hitting ahead of him.Back in the No. 2 hole after struggling as Kinsler’s replacement atop the lineup (.221), Andrus is seeing more fastballs and is comfortable in a role in which he might be asked to bunt or execute a hit-and-run.“He makes a lot of stuff easier,” Andrus said. “I think I’m a whole different player when he’s on base. I feel much better. My approach feels better right now.”That can be said for the entire team, which is back atop the American League West and which has its leadoff hitter and spark plug back in the lineup.Can one player really make the difference in lifting a team from its worst stretch of the season into its best? A case can be made that Kinsler is making that kind of impact.“That’s what I see,” Washington said.
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST