Options limited atop Rangers’ lineup

06/14/2014 10:08 PM

11/12/2014 6:06 PM

An admission came from the office of the visiting manager Saturday afternoon during the now-frequent discussion about the state of Texas Rangers’ leadoff man.

The Rangers don’t have one, manager Ron Washington said.

Well, they do, but Shin-Soo Choo is now batting third because the Rangers haven’t had a No. 3 hitter since Prince Fielder was lost for the season after cervical fusion surgery.

Well, they did, but it was revealed last weekend that Mitch Moreland needs ankle surgery.

So, for the past week, the Rangers’ leadoff hitter has been their No. 3 hitter, creating a void atop the lineup. There has been a player there, of course, just not the kind that Washington wants.

“A guy who gets on base, a guy who can disrupt things, can do a lot of things,” Washington said. “The one trait that usual is missing in a prototypical leadoff hitter is power, but they get on the base, they can steal bags, they can cause havoc. Those are the types of things you look for.

“He’s not here. I don’t have a leadoff guy. He’s not here. We’re not playing fantasy baseball. I’ve got to put somebody in the spot.”

That guy Saturday in a late game at Safeco Field was Leonys Martin, who can do many of the things a leadoff man should do but not the primary one of being a pitch-seeing, walk-drawing pain in the rear.

He replaced rookie Michael Choice, who received a mental break a day after going 0 for 4 against Felix Hernandez to push his hitless drought to 15 at-bats and to extend his skid to 1 for 24.

Martin wasn’t exactly on fire, at 2 for 18 with eight strikeouts in his past eight games. Choice could very well be back in the leadoff spot Sunday afternoon for the series finale against Seattle, or Martin could be. Daniel Robertson is possible, too.

But it won’t be Rickey Henderson. Or Shin-Soo Choo, who had been the leadoff man. Or Elvis Andrus, who has admitted to not being comfortable atop the lineup.

“I’m not worried about it,” Washington said. “If I can just a No. 1 guy up there, whoever he is, I’ve got nine guys in the lineup. He’s No. 1 when the game starts. After that, he’s just getting an at-bat.”

Choice can relate to Andrus’ comfort issues as a leadoff man. Choice had never done it until Choo sprained his left ankle in late April at Oakland. He did well in the week Choo was out, because he was mostly consumed by just getting comfortable to the majors and was thrilled to be playing every day.

Choice has been at the bottom of the order most of the season, and that’s where he has been at his best. He’d become more aggressive, as he was when he homered June 6 as the No. 8 hitter to beat Cleveland.

As a leadoff man, Choice is batting .136 (8 for 59) with a .227 on-base percentage.

“It’s different,” he said. “It takes away a little bit of my aggressiveness. There’s something about it. The comfort factor isn’t there. Right now, I’m still trying to get the ball rolling a little bit. I’m trying to not let if faze me too much because there’s plenty of games left. Being down and trying too hard to get hits isn’t going to help anything.”

Choice has nothing to worry about, as far as the manager is concerned. That .194 batting average doesn’t look very good, but Washington is staying patient with the promising prospect the Rangers acquired in the off-season for Craig Gentry.

“I’m not looking at the average he’s having,” Washington said. “We’re going to stay with him.”

Martin is the people’s choice to be the leadoff hitter, but not the manager’s. Washington doesn’t want to take away Martin’s aggressiveness, and can tell that Martin is a shell of the player he can be when atop the lineup.

Washington calls Martin “a slasher.” He sees something close to the plate, whether it;s straight or breaking, and takes a hack. In Washington’s mind, that plays better at the bottom of the lineup.

But Washington can’t be too picky. The Rangers’ best leadoff man is batting third, because their best No. 3 hitter is out for the season.

So, Washington is left to choose between Choice and Martin. Both are willing to lead off, though neither is currently suited for the role.

In Choice’s case, it should get better with time. Until then, the Rangers have to live with what they’re getting from atop the lineup.

“I’m kind of past the new-to-the-big-league nerves,” he said. “There’s not any nerves involved anymore. Now it’s about making the mental adjustments. I’m still in the adjusting phase of really figuring out what guys are trying to do.

“It’s alright as long as I don’t have to face Felix anytime soon.”

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