Choo clicks first as Rangers hang on to end skid

06/27/2014 10:44 PM

06/27/2014 11:51 PM

Shin-Soo Choo was back in the leadoff spot Friday night for the Texas Rangers, who signed him to a seven-year, $130 million contract to get on base like no one in club history ever has.

Of course, just like everything else this season, that hasn’t gone according to plan. It did, for about two months, but then Choo became the best option for the No. 3 spot after Prince Fielder and Mitch Moreland were lost for the season.

Since then, and even a tad before, Choo has seemed lost. Well, except for Friday night as he collected three hits to help give the Rangers just enough in a 5-4 victory that snapped an eight-game losing streak.

This month, though, Choo hasn’t been good.

He could say that the ankle he sprained in April is affecting him at the plate, but he isn’t one to make excuses.

Instead, he’s a self-analyzer and painfully honest. He said that he needs to focus more during his at-bats. There’s pressure, too, because no one is hitting and because he wants to make a favorable impression in the first year of his mega-deal.

Whatever the cause, Choo knows he is in a slump.

“I had a homer against the Angels in the ninth inning, and I thought probably I would come out of my slump. But I’m not,” Choo said.

“With my numbers down and my team’s not doing well, I’m thinking about results. I’ve talked to the hitting coach a lot, and I’ve talked to a lot of players. I’ve played baseball a long time, but when this happens, it’s hard to think positive.”

Maybe being back in the leadoff spot will get him going.

He collected a leadoff single in his first start atop the lineup since June 6, and scored later in the inning on a two-run homer by Adrian Beltre. Choo singled in the third and had a two-run double in the fifth.

Nick Tepesch (3-3) was the beneficiary, and he responded with 71/3 scoreless innings in what amounts to the best start of his young career. He then had to hang on as the Twins scored four times in the ninth and had the tying run at third base with one out before a rusty Joakim Soria escaped.

“No one said it was going to be easy,” manager Ron Washington said.

Choo saw his average climb to .251 but with a very respectable .372 on-base percentage. But the .300 average and .450-plus OBP that he carried early on have diminished in the aftermath of one of the worst skids of his career.

He’s batting .169 in 23 games this month. That would easily rate as the worst month of his career since he became a full-time player.

Over the past 46 games, he’s batting only .187. His average 47 games ago was .370 with a .500 on-base percentage.

In the 17 games this month as the No. 3 hitter, Choo batted .149 with 19 strikeouts and only four walks.

Aside from zeroing in on every pitch during every at-bat, Choo also said he needs to be more aggressive. He has been letting good pitches get past him and falling into pitchers’ counts.

“I told myself to be aggressive,” he said. “I’m taking too many pitches.”

Despite his well-earned reputation as an on-base machine, Choo is an aggressive hitter — on pitches in the strike zone. When he’s hot, he doesn’t swing at pitches out of the zone and doesn’t take pitches in it.

Signs that he might have found something were evident against Kevin Correia on Friday night. Choo jumped on the second pitch for a liner off the glove of a leaping Brian Dozier at second. Choo laced a 3-1 pitch to center in his second at-bat.

He’s a few more good games away from being able to declare that he has busted out of his slump.

“I don’t want to say slump,” Choo said. “I just say this is happening.”

Fine. While he’s clarifying things, his left ankle isn’t getting any worse, so there’s no need for him to go on the disabled list now.

“Why?” he said. “There’s nobody healthy playing this game. Look at this clubhouse. If I wanted to go on the DL, I would have done it five or six weeks ago.”

But this much is clear. Choo offered no excuses for what is ailing him at the plate, offering instead an honest self-evaluation and a three-hit game.

Maybe that will break his slump, or whatever he wants to call it.

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