Signs of improvement, as we’ve been told numerous times by the Texas Rangers in 2014, are often hard to detect. The wheels of maturation for young ballplayers sometimes move slowly, manager Ron Washington has insisted, often making obvious signs of growth impossible to discern.
And then there are nights like Friday at Minute Maid Park against the Astros.
The Rangers, who’ve seen their dominance of the long-lowly Astros come to a screeching halt this season, broke out the lumber for the second time in three nights, and won handily 13-6 in front of an announced crowd of 18,931.
Michael Choice, the former UT Arlington and Mansfield Timberview star who spent much of the season trying to find his swing at Triple A Round Rock, found it in thundering fashion.
After going hitless in his first 10 at-bats since returning to the Rangers earlier this week, Choice went 3 for 4, including a double and a towering three-run homer that slammed off the wall behind the Crawford boxes in left field.
Rougned Odor, one of the rookies who has tantalized and vexed the Rangers this season, went 2 for 5, including a three-run homer in the seventh that increased the Rangers’ lead to 13-1.
Adam Rosales, not exactly inexperienced, had three hits and two RBIs.
The Rangers’ 16 hits are their most since collecting 16 against the Yankees on July 29.
Even fresh-off-the-bus rookie Ryan Rua, who was called up from Round Rock on Friday and started and batted fifth, collected his first major league hit with a line single to right in the seventh and played with poise at first base.
“They swung the bat well tonight,” Washington said. “[Daniel] Robertson did a good job of making it happen for us tonight [in lead-off].”
It was a load off for Choice, who said he felt good about his swing when he was called up Monday, but had yet to show any proof of improvement until Friday.
“Yeah, absolutely,” said Choice, who detected from video that he was pulling his head during his swing and adjusted before Friday’s game. “Because I felt good coming back up and I wanted to continue on that. I was pulling my head a little bit once the ball was getting close to the hitting zone. I was keeping my head down longer and using my hands and not as much body.”
Scott Baker gave the Rangers a second strong start in as many chances, allowing two runs on six hits in 6 1/3 innings.
For one night, at least, Washington had tangible proof that some of his young prospects, including five rookies in Friday’s starting lineup, were making strides.
“Especially in Michael’s case,” he said. “He needed that for his peace of mind and I’m very happy for him. It was nice the way Odor swung the bat tonight and [Tomas] Telis battled for his at-bats.”
Before Choice’s first-career three-hit game, Washington told him while throwing batting practice pitches Friday afternoon, that he wanted to see the same fluid swing in the game.
“He just needs to relax and trust his ability,” Washington said. “Just do the best he can to put the bat head on it instead of trying to force things.”