The timing of the players-only meeting Sunday, said shortstop Elvis Andrus, couldn’t have been any better.
His team, the Texas Rangers, had lost four straight.
The Rangers were — and still are — closer to last place in the American League West than they are first place after a week in which they lost twice to last-place Houston and saw two members of their starting rotation lost for the season.
After one post-meeting game, the Rangers are 1-0. They go for 2-0 Tuesday night in the first of two games against Seattle to wrap up a five-game homestand.
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The message delivered behind closed doors by veterans Adrian Beltre, Andrus and Alex Rios called for players to trust each other and not do too much, and for the young players to not panic over an early-season swoon.
Help is on the way. It’s a familiar refrain. Until the help actually arrives, the Rangers have to hang on.
“We’re more than capable of going out and doing some special things this year,” designated hitter Mitch Moreland said Sunday after the Rangers’ 6-2 win over Toronto. “This was a good first step, and we need to continue to keep it rolling.”
The second step is getting regular production from players not on the disabled list. Start with first baseman Prince Fielder, who is expected to be back Tuesday night after he received an injection to cool a nerve being pinched by a herniated disk in his neck.
The hope is that he will regain the strength he had lost in his left arm, which the Rangers say helps explain his plate woes (.247, 3 HRs) and even some of the plays he wasn’t able to make in the field.
“He’s got a weak back side, and the back side is your power,” manager Ron Washington said. “Does that mean that he’s going to come back and start hitting the ball out of the ballpark with regularity? It takes 600 at-bats to get 30-something bombs. I think if everything is well, he’s going to get 30-something bombs.
“As long as he’s not feeling any effect on his back side, I think progress will be made.”
More key contributors will be coming back next month through the All-Star break. Jurickson Profar will likely be first, followed by Tanner Scheppers, Neftali Feliz, Derek Holland and Geovany Soto.
Profar (torn right shoulder muscle) is in Arizona getting at-bats in extended spring games as the DH and continuing to work on his throwing program. He is expected to join the Rangers at Minnesota during the upcoming road trip so that Washington and infield coach Tim Bogar can monitor him as he starts throwing from second base.
Scheppers (elbow inflammation) will begin rehabbing as a starter Saturday, but the Rangers haven’t decided if he will return to the injury-ravaged rotation or the bullpen. The continued hope is that Feliz, who coughed up four runs Sunday at Triple A Round Rock, will make a positive impact as a reliever.
Holland (left knee) remains on track to beat the prescribed rehab time. Soto (left knee) is doing strengthening exercises and is on target for his 2014 debut in July.
Until that group returns in full and assuming no other key players are lost, which simply can’t be assumed, the Rangers are trying to survive. That starts, according to the message in the players meeting, with trust.
“We were just making sure that everybody knows we’re in the same boat and on the same page,” Andrus said. “Let’s worry about the present and today, and forget about what’s going to happen and what has happened.
“A lot of people are trying to do too much. The meeting was a way to tell everybody to stick together. There’s a lot of negativity from everywhere. Everybody’s got everybody’s back.”
Also expressed was the belief that the Rangers have yet to play their best baseball. The Rangers entered their off day Monday tied for 13th in the 15-team AL in runs scored this month, with 63 in 16 games, and their 4.65 May ERA was better only than the 4.66 mark posted by the Chicago White Sox.
No wonder the Rangers’ 6-10 record this month was the worst in the league.
But they’re 1-0 after a players meeting. The quest to survive until injured players get healthy continues Tuesday night.
“Sometimes you get in different situations in the game that don’t let you focus on the things that you have to do, some things that you just can’t control,” Rios said. “You just have to refocus, get back to the basics, get back to what you have to do and just play the game. We’re just trying to stay positive and keep our heads up.”