It wasn’t an enchanted April, but Rangers remain hopeful

Posted Thursday, May. 01, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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It ended ugly, but the Texas Rangers are viewing April as a good opening month to the season.

They ended on a four-game losing streak and were swept at home by the two-time division champs, but they had won nine of 12 before that.

They also got contributions from unlikely players as regulars were out with injuries.

“It’s been very successful in the sense that we’ve been playing hurt since the season started,” manager Ron Washington said. “I’m very pleased with where we are right now.”

Said Mitch Moreland: “I think it’s been a great month overall. We had some bumps in the road here and there, but we put ourselves in a good situation and we’re right where we need to be.”

At one point, the Rangers were tied for the best record in baseball but are now three games back of the A’s in the AL West. They are only a half-game ahead of the Los Angels Angels heading into their three-game series beginning Friday in Anaheim.

The Rangers went 15-4 against the Angels last season, although that will be difficult to duplicate.

As Washington said, “Very tough team. Mike Scioscia manages those guys, so they’re going to be ready to play. They’ve got a healthy Albert [Pujols] and the starting pitching is holding things together. This should be a good series.”

Only if the Rangers can find their mid-April form. Here’s a look at the first month of the season.

Pleasant surprise: Bench

The Rangers have been without their projected everyday catcher (Geovany Soto) and second baseman (Jurickson Profar) since Opening Day and they will be without them in May, too. And Adrian Beltre landed on the disabled list two weeks into the season.

But the Rangers have managed to piece it together.

Josh Wilson and Donnie Murphy have been reliable fielders at second. Wilson also has been solid at the plate, batting .273 with seven RBIs in 20 games.

Catcher Robinson Chirinos has established himself as the best backstop and is tied for the team lead in home runs with two. He also came through with a game-winning hit on April 11 vs. Houston.

And Kevin Kouzmanoff filled in at third base seamlessly for Beltre. He batted .362 with two home runs and 10 RBIs over 13 games. Kouzmanoff is now on the DL, likely headed toward back surgery, but Beltre is back.

Disappointment to date: Prince Fielder

The Rangers traded their longest-tenured player, Ian Kinsler, to acquire the left-handed slugging Fielder and a seven-year, $138 million obligation.

So far, the deal hasn’t produced much promise. Fielder is batting .206 with a .644 on-base plus slugging percentage. He has two home runs and nine RBIs.

“I’ve felt all right here and there,” Fielder said before Wednesday’s game. “I feel good and all I can control is how I feel. I’d like to have 20 homers by now, but I don’t. It will definitely come around.”

Fielder and Washington said they will be patient. In the meantime, Fielder hasn’t been seen as a liability by opponents, who have intentionally walked him a major league-leading nine times.

Reason for hope: Help on the way

Injuries have forced the Rangers to test their organizational depth and it’s been OK so far.

The bench players have come through in key situations and rookie Nick Martinez has pitched well as a spot starter and long reliever.

But the Rangers should have plenty of reinforcements joining them throughout the summer. Profar and Soto could return by June; Derek Holland is making progress and could be ready shortly after the All-Star break; and Neftali Feliz is starting to throw again and could be another power arm in the bullpen if he returns to form.

“We haven’t been able to get our team together that we felt we’d leave out of spring training with,” Washington said. “But there’s nothing you can do about it. You’ve just got to keep playing.”

Cause for concern: Offense

For a franchise once known exclusively for its power bats, the Rangers have produced their worst power numbers to start a season in more than 30 years.

The Rangers have only 14 home runs through 28 games, second-fewest in all of baseball. The Rangers were leading the league in most grounding into double plays (29) through Wednesday’s games.

As far as the low home run total, the last time they were held to as few as 14 through 28 games was in 1981 when they had 12. The Rangers also have struggled with runners in scoring position of late, batting .220 the past six games.

An inconsistent offense has been a troubling trend the past few seasons and there are early signs it will be again.

Final word

All in all, the Rangers were pleased with the opening month and arguably exceeded expectations given the number of injuries. Does the manager agree?

“They haven’t exceeded my expectations because my expectations never changed,” Washington said. “Maybe some guys have played a little better than people thought, but as far as our expectations go? Our expectation is to win ballgames.”

Drew Davison, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @drewdavison

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