SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The major leagues called upon Elvis Andrus before he could even walk into a bar and buy a beer, all the way back in 2009.
He was handed the Texas Rangers' starting shortstop job in the off-season, a move that came with manager Ron Washington's tough-love approach.
Washington didn't ease off the reins much that season, only a little more in 2010, and maybe just a tad more in 2011. But each time Andrus took a wrong step, Washington was quick to tighten those reins.
Year four, though, will start out differently. Andrus won't be asked to play five straight days this spring, as in the past, but instead will fall into the same rotation as Michael Young, Ian Kinsler and Adrian Beltre.
Those guys are veterans, and Andrus has earned the veteran's treatment at the ripe age of 23. And he earned it by showing that he can withstand the physical and mental demands of a full season.
"He's established himself now to the point where he knows what he has to do," Washington said Sunday before the first full-squad workout of spring training.
"We're going to give him some leeway. His teammates will make sure he does what he needs to do. I think we'll see less of him zoning out than we have in the past."
Those zone-outs have led to Washington removing Andrus from games, as he did most recently last season at Minnesota after Andrus made a lazy throw that got away from Young at first base.
Andrus also had issues in his first three seasons with taking the routine play too lightly rather than making the play in the proper tempo that he was taught in the minor leagues.
But he only played as far as Double A in the minors before becoming the Rangers' shortstop of the future in 2009, a move that pushed Young to third base. Washington said that Andrus had to learn on the job some things that he would have picked up trolling through the minors another year or two.
He has picked up many of them now, with the most important to date coming in mid-August. Andrus finally was tired of making silly mistakes and kicked his focus into a higher gear.
Though he committed 25 errors, he didn't boot a ball after Aug. 20.
"I was like, 'Let's go. Let's go play hard every day,'" Andrus said. "As a young player, that's what you're looking for, the opportunity to learn and get better.
"Sometimes it takes you two or three years to realize what I was doing wrong and how to fix it. That's going to be different for me this year. I know how to react."
Nelson Cruz, among others, has watched Andrus grow for all three of his big-league seasons. Andrus can be a cut-up in the clubhouse, but the clowning has been minimized.
Cruz also said that the game comes so easily to Andrus that it is easy for his focus to slide.
"He's always ahead of plays and situations in the game," Cruz said. "You need to be consistent in the big leagues, and at times the last three seasons he's struggled to stay consistent.
"He's grown a lot as a person and a player. He's still really young, but he's definitely grown up."
Andrus -- who signed a three-year, $14.4 million extension earlier this month that bought out his remaining arbitration years -- admitted that it will be nice to have a little more freedom from his manager's tough-love approach.
But he also recognizes how much Washington has helped him blossom into a must-have player during the Rangers' rise the past three seasons.
"He's believing more in me, and that's what you're looking for," Andrus said. "I don't like when he treats me like a kid. But every time he came to me it was for a reason. This is my fourth year. I've still got a long way to go. I'm still learning and still getting better."
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760