March 18, 2013

Ian Kinsler starting to find spring comfort zone

The second baseman entered Monday hitting .154 but had hits in his first three at-bats vs. the Royals.

Dating to the dawn of time, or at least since spring training games were first played more than 100 years ago, players and managers have said that statistics from February and March are meaningless.

That’s true for players who have secured their roster spots and veterans who can flip a switch once the regular season arrives, but not at all the case for those battling to make an Opening Day roster.

Ian Kinsler is going to be the Texas Rangers’ second baseman March 31 at Houston no matter what numbers he posts during Cactus League play. Entering his eighth season, Kinsler knows what to do to be ready for a major league campaign.

The Rangers trust that to be the situation in light of the .154 average their leadoff hitter carried into Monday. Kinsler isn’t concerned either, and by the fourth inning at Surprise Stadium he had shown why.

Kinsler had hits in his first three at-bats, including a two-run homer off Ervin Santana, only hours after saying that he is closing in on the form that he hopes will make a down 2012 a distant memory.

“I’m feeling great,” Kinsler said Monday afternoon.

“I’m just working on things I need to work on to get ready for the season. I’m not worried about results. What you do in spring training has no bearing on the season. It’s about preparing yourself and just being comfortable.”

To further make his point, Kinsler noted that he had a good spring in 2012 before struggling through perhaps the worst season of his career. He hit .390 last spring with a team-high five home runs but was at .256 with 19 homers after 157 regular-season games.

His 90 strikeouts were a career-high, and he was caught stealing a career-high nine times. The 18 errors he committed were tied for the most in his career, and his .970 fielding percentage was a career-low.

He has made no excuses for the tough year, though a lingering ankle injury forced him to take chances on the bases and make adjustments in other areas that he normally wouldn’t attempt.

But he was healthy over the off-season and is realizing the results of being in better shape than he has been the past two springs.

“My legs feel a lot better,” said Kinsler, who is in the first year of a five-year, $85 million extension he signed almost a year ago. “Defensively I feel a lot more in rhythm and my timing is better than it has been in the past. On the bases I feel a lot more comfortable. It’s not really a struggle. I’m not constantly thinking about what’s wrong with me.”

Kinsler declined to detail just what it is he’s working to improve this spring, saying simply that he’s trying to be a better overall player. But manager Ron Washington and hitting coach Dave Magadan have said that Kinsler is trying to cut down on popping the ball up, among other things.

“He’s having better at-bats,” Washington said. “He’s been working hard to stay on top of the ball. He’s been working hard to drive the ball to the opposite field. I think he’s coming along. I’m not worried about Kinsler. It’s not like he’s some rookie. There are adjustments he’s having to make this spring, and I think he’s getting after it pretty well.”

Kinsler isn’t worried either. After all, it’s spring training. The statistics, good or bad, won’t matter to him one bit once the games start to count.

“I’m getting more comfortable. I’m not there yet,” he said. “I want to say I need two or three more days before I feel I’m comfortable. I’m starting to get to a place where I’m able to make the adjustments I need to make. Offensively, it’ll be there March 31.”

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