That pesky National League rule, the one in which pitchers have to bat as they have since the advent of professional baseball, led to the Texas Rangers using a different batting order for the 21st consecutive game Sunday.
But within that lineup were the same eight position players in the same order as the previous game, a degree of continuity that the Rangers have had only one other time in the 21-game stretch.
Manager Ron Washington is big on continuity. He believes a player performs better if he knows each day where he will be in the lineup.
Thanks to a baseball-leading rash of injuries, that hasn’t been possible. But the past two games were as close as the Rangers can come to continuity.
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“I told Bogey [bench coach Tim Bogar], ‘That’s the same one as yesterday,’ ” Washington said. “I’ve just been trying to engage everyone. Being in a National League city is probably the reason.”
The lack of a designated hitter limited Washington’s flexibility. Had the game been in an American League park, it’s likely that either third baseman Adrian Beltre or left fielder Shin-Soo Choo would have been the DH and Donnie Murphy or Michael Choice would have been in the field.
The Rangers made Washington’s job easier by collecting 11 hits, including two homers, in a 5-3 win Saturday.
“They’ve earned that consistency,” Washington said. “Hopefully as we move forward, things will begin to get better and will only have to give them days when I feel they need them.”
Right-hander Miles Mikolas will make his second big league start Monday as the Rangers open a seven-game homestand that leads to the All-Star break, and he hopes to stick with what worked in his debut Wednesday.
He allowed three runs in 5 1/3 innings at Baltimore and was undone in the sixth inning by a pair of one-out walks. Until that point, though, he had gotten ahead of hitters and was attacking the strike zone.
That’s the blueprint he will follow Monday against Houston.
“If I go out there and pitch my game plan and execute my pitches, then I will be successful,” Mikolas said. “If I get away from that and start pitching outside the zone and start nibbling too much, that’s when I get in trouble.”
At the very least, Mikolas accomplished Washington’s No. 1 goal of keeping the Rangers in the game. Washington’s goal for Mikolas is to do it again.
“Just build off what he did in Baltimore and give us a chance,” Washington said. “He’s shown he can throw strikes. You’ve got to throw strikes, keep the ball in play and make things happen.”
The Rangers are much closer to fifth-place Houston than they are third-place Seattle, and the Astros are coming to town for three games with a chance to move toward an escape from the cellar.
But the Astros have lost seven straight, so the Rangers might be catching them at the right time. Washington, though, has said all season that Houston would be better than the 111-loss team last season.
“They’re playing better baseball,” Washington said. “They my be sitting in last place, but they can beat anybody on any given day.”
The Astros have received a boost from the promotion of outfielder George Springer, who has hit 17 homers, and second baseman Jose Altuve leads the league in hitting. While the Astros have hit 93 homers, fourth in the league, their .235 batting average is last.
The Rangers are hoping to build some momentum during the homestand, which includes four games against the Angels.
“You always want momentum,” Washington said. “I hope when we go home, we do play well.”