To Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus is the annoying little brother who tries to invent new ways to bug him.
Whether it’s touching Beltre’s head after home runs or during mound visits, Andrus has perfected the art of irritating Beltre.
Beltre dishes it back and is always pleased when given more ammo. The latest came when he was informed that Andrus led the Rangers in grounding into double plays last season with 19.
“Really? That’s brutal on his part,” Beltre said, grinning. “For someone like Prince [Fielder] or me, we’re kind of slow, so that’s understandable. I didn’t know that about Elvis, but he should never be on that list.”
Known for his on-field antics and mischievous ways in the clubhouse, Andrus is expected take on more of a leadership role. Cutting down on his double-play grounders could go a long way toward achieving that goal.
He combined for 10 in his first two seasons in the big leagues, but has averaged 17 his past three seasons. He is well aware of that now, thanks to Beltre.
“It’s hard because sometimes they are going to happen,” Andrus said. “But I’m thinking about it for sure now.”
Manager Ron Washington likes the players to police themselves and hold each other accountable, and this is another example of that. That is the responsibility of the veterans, a group of which Andrus is a part at age 25.
Andrus is going into his sixth season in the big leagues and is one of two position players remaining — along with Mitch Moreland — who played on the 2010 and 2011 World Series teams.
Andrus is by far the team leader in games played in a Rangers uniform. He has played in 757, followed by Moreland (442) and Beltre (441), and the growth from his rookie season to today has been noticeable.
“He’s turned himself into a better hitter, turned himself into a better defensive player,” Washington said. “And, as far as all the leadership talk goes, he’s certainly helping everyone else around him.”
Beltre, despite all the headaches Andrus causes him, is also proud to see how much Andrus has evolved into being one of the leaders on the team. Before Andrus arrived at spring training, the clubhouse was quiet and lifeless. That immediately changed once Andrus and his Abraham Lincoln-esque beard came to town.
“That’s his personality, he’s the kind of guy who likes to be talking and involved in every conversation,” Beltre said. “He’s the guy who keeps everyone loose. It’s nice to have a guy like that.”
Said Andrus: “You have to have fun in this game because there is so many expectations and pressures during the year that sometimes we forget that it’s still a game.”
Andrus could speak from his own experience last season. He had already established himself as one of the better shortstops in the game with two All-Star appearances. In April, he received an eight-year, $120 million contract extension.
But Andrus struggled early in 2013, batting .250 in April, .278 in May and then slipping to .196 in June. He admitted that the pressure of the extension might have factored into it.
“Yeah, you can say that for sure,” Andrus said. “It’s not something I was actually thinking, but I guess it happened. I had to realize that I got paid for what I’ve done so far and what I’m going to do in the future.
“I’m glad it’s in the past right now.”
Andrus finished the season strong, batting .313 with nine doubles, four home runs and 36 RBIs in the second half.
Andrus took the winter off from baseball and came into spring training fresh and ready to go. He was slowed by tendinitis in the flexor tendon of his right arm, but has returned to game action and is ready to take on a more prominent role on the club.
“Being a leader is not about saying it,” Andrus said. “You have to actually act like a leader, not just name yourself a leader. That’s what I’m going to do.”
Elvis by the numbers
5Seasons with the Rangers, most of any position player on the roster. Only Matt Harrison has been with the team longer.
100Stolen bases the past three seasons, fifth most in all of baseball.
2All-Star Game appearances, 2010 and 2012.
3Times Andrus has led the American League in sacrifice hits (2010, 2012, 2013).
143Singles last season, most in the American League.
10.9WAR (wins above replacement) the past three seasons, according to fangraphs.com, fifth best among all shortstops.