Another spring day, another spring game, and another spring batting order...
On second thought — the first to anyone who saw the lineup card posted Thursday morning — the nine hitters the Texas Rangers sent to the plate to start their Cactus League game at Surprise Stadium looked more commensurate with an April 8 lineup than March 8.
"I definitely look at it as this could be a potential starting lineup for any given day," center fielder Delino DeShields said.
DeShields batted leadoff, Shin-Soo Choo was in his customary spot, then Nomar Mazara, Adrian Beltre, Joey Gallo, Elvis Andrus and Rougned Odor. No. 8 hitter Willie Calhoun could very well be a 2018 regular, and Juan Centeno could very well be the backup to Robinson Chirinos.
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Just by the nature of a season, with injuries and days off and favorable match-ups, the Rangers' lineup will change often from game to game. They used 134 lineups in 2017 and only two lineups as many as four games.
But the first seven players who took on the Chicago White Sox Thursday afternoon, in some combination or another, will be regulars for the Rangers. The time has arrived for manager Jeff Banister to start figuring out what combinations work best.
"Physically, these guys get ready pretty quick, and then it becomes mentally preparing themselves in that major-league relationship on the field of how guys compete together and their timing and space," Banister said. "I told our staff there have been times we've come out of the game a little bit not at the speed that we want. Can we create those scenarios and really get our guys ramped up early?"
The experimenting will continue over the next 10 days as rest for regulars allows. While it's important for the lineup combinations to start clicking, hitters need to see live pitching and get a feel for their swings, and might bat in spots in the order where their ordinarily wouldn't during the regular season.
DeShields wants to be atop the lineup though, where he was more than any other player last season (78 games). He and Choo were an unstoppable combination late in 2015 as the Rangers surged to the American League West title, and that duo has set goals for each other for the season.
Score 100 runs apiece.
Reach base a combined five times a game.
"If we do that, we know we'll be doing our thing," said DeShields, who singled in his first at-bat Thursday.
With those 100 runs would come a high volume of stolen bases for DeShields and walks for Choo, and good base runners on the bags for the meat of the lineup to drive home. Against the White Sox, Mazara, Beltre and Gallo were the meat.
Mazara drove in 101 runs last season, a stat that might not have value in the analytical world, but has ample value to him and his teammates. Entering his third season, Mazara has said that he no longer has any reason to not be more consistent and productive.
He might not be the No. 3 hitter against left-handers, and he said that he doesn't have much preference where he lands in the lineup as long as he's in the lineup. Batting between Choo and Beltre, though, would be nice.
"I think I'm going to get some pitches to hit if I'm there," Mazara said. "If you look at that lineup, it's a pretty good lineup for sure. It can do a lot of damage."
But, as Mazara correctly noted, the lineup last year didn't produce consistently enough. They never had a big group of players all get hot at the same time, which led to the second-lowest batting average (.243) in club history.
That's where the springtime experimenting comes into play. The end result might be a lineup in which hitters don't move around much, a concept Banister values because hitters can get more comfortable knowing where they will likely be each game.
Days off, injuries and platoons can lead to needing to "get comfortable being uncomfortable," as Banister has said in the past.
His first trial at a regular-season lineup run took place Thursday.
"Production and how guys produce runs in coordination with each other, when you have guys that can fit together in that manager, you don't necessarily have to maneuver guys around," Banister said. "I think static lineups are good, but also I think guys [must be] able to see their name in a different spot in the lineup and it not [ruin their day]."