Rangers’ Elvis Andrus finding himself at the plate

04/11/2014 5:18 PM

11/12/2014 4:41 PM

As baseball evolves and statistical analysis continues to be applied, the concept that a team’s best hitter should bat second in the order is gaining traction.

It is happening in Anaheim (Mike Trout) and Minnesota (Joe Mauer). It happened last season in Toronto (Jose Bautista), Philadelphia (Chase Utley) and New York (Robinson Cano).

The goal behind the best-bats-second movement is to give a team’s top hitter more at-bats and the offense more chances to bunch runs together.

Elvis Andrus, the owner of a .274 career batting average and a .688 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, isn’t the Texas Rangers’ best hitter.

But he is their most versatile hitter as the only player who can do everything manager Ron Washington wants done behind the leadoff man. That means bunt, hit-and-run, steal bases, and bunt some more.

Through nine games this season, Andrus was in contention for being the Rangers’ best hitter. He was one of three American League players who has hit safely in each of his team’s games, and his home run Sunday was the game-winner at Tampa Bay.

To his credit, he knows it’s early. The Rangers entered Friday having played a whopping 5.5 percent of their schedule. But he also knows that he is in a better place than he was a year ago and is more capable of avoiding the slumps that ruined his first half last season and cast him in the lot of the game’s below-average hitters.

“So far, so good,” Andrus said Wednesday. “I’ve got to stay that way and keep that consistency the whole year. I’ve got to stay in my game, not try to do too much, and not take any at-bat for granted.”

Listening to Andrus explain his past 12 months of offense, he was lost but now is found. He started 2013 hitting into bad luck, with hard-hit balls going directly to defenders, but recovered in May.

Then the slump hit. By the All-Star break, he was batting .242 with a .589 OPS. Andrus had gotten away from his strengths, and his tour as a fill-in leadoff man for the injured Ian Kinsler had nothing to do with it.

“It was going to happen anyway,” Andrus said. “I was lost last year. I started the season feeling so well, but instead of keeping it going, I starting changing my swing. That’s when I got lost.

“I always say that every time I try to step out of my game and try to do different things, that’s when I get lost with my timing and my swing.”

Andrus flourished after the All-Star break, batting .313 and finding some pop. He collected 14 of his 25 extra-base hits, including all three of his homers, in the second half, and his on-base percentage climbed from .300 to .369.

His liner into the left-field seats Sunday at Tropicana Field came on a quick, compact stroke, and he hit a pitch that experience told him was coming. It was a good piece of hitting, and Washington said that Andrus is a good hitter who is capable of batting .300.

“I think Elvis can consistently be a .280 or .290 hitter, that’s for sure,” Washington said. “I think he’s going to have a year when he hits .300. It happens to good hitters.”

Washington continues to use Andrus to move leadoff man Shin-Soo Choo into scoring position for the middle of a lineup that is now missing Adrian Beltre. Andrus, who entered Friday as the AL leader with three sacrifice bunts, has accepted his role and covets it.

He also believes that he is more capable of sustaining his good start to the season after getting lost last year.

“The key for me this year is try to do the same thing every single at-bat,” Andrus said. “You might get lost. It’s a long season. But if I stick with my plan, it’ll be hard to get lost. If I do, it’ll be easier to find it again.”

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