For a few innings, at least, Jeff Banister had the kind of lineup he wants.
It’s the type of lineup that helped the Rangers win their division in 2015, the kind that can strike from one through nine.
Outfielder Shin-Soo Choo was back for the first time since going on the disabled list with a strained right calf on April 10. He lasted long enough to start a third-inning rally with his second walk of the game but had to leave after straining his left hamstring when he scored from second base on Prince Fielder’s two-run double to left-center. The Rangers held on for a 2-1 win behind another impressive start by Colby Lewis. For more on Lewis, check out the game story.
Choo said the hamstring felt fine after receiving treatment but he was unsure whether he’d be in Saturday’s lineup. He’ll be evaluated Saturday afternoon.
Choo’s departure forced Nomar Mazara to move back to right field from left and Ryan Rua to come off the bench to play left. None of it factored much in Friday’s final score but Banister hopes the addition of Choo atop the lineup helps stretch out the Rangers’ offense.
Choo, who has plenty of experience batting leadoff in his career, has been most successful batting second, especially in the second half of 2015 for the Rangers. Banister is aware of this.
“I know he hit second for us last year and had a tremendous amount of success but we don’t have Delino DeShields hitting in front of him now,” Banister said.
Here are three reasons why Choo’s return should help the Rangers score more runs:
1. Choo’s bat — I know, this one seems obvious, especially if we’re talking the kind of bat Choo was swinging in the second half last season. But bear with me here. Choo’s ability to get on base is vital to the offense. Without Delino DeShields (for the time being) Choo is a better option leading off than Rougned Odor, who will never be confused with being a selective hitter.
“He’s a veteran hitter, an on-base threat, power threat,” Banister said of Choo. “He can be a run producer, similar to what he was last year.”
Choo would prefer to bat second in the lineup but has known he’d be leading off upon his return before even beginning his rehab assignment. He understands Banister’s desire to stretch out the lineup. Which brings us to reason No. 2.
2. Stretching it out — Choo’s return allows Banister to push Rougned Odor and Nomar Mazara deeper down in the order. This not only suits Odor’s strengths as a hitter, but also takes some pressure off him and Mazara, a rookie who has been batting near the top of the order for much of his first month and a half. On Friday, Odor hit fifth and Mazara hit seventh, sandwiched around Mitch Moreland. “It allows us to drop Rougie down into more of an RBI spot where the swing plays a little better and it’s not a on-base situation for him,” Banister said. “It gives him the opportunity to go swing for the RBI, give him a little breathing room in that regard.”
Mazara has been getting work in left field since he got here and played there extensively in the minors last season and knew he’d eventually move to left when Choo returned. Mazara was unfazed by the move.
3. Veteran foursome — The restructured lineup, Banister pointed out, gives him four veteran hitters atop the order with Choo, Ian Desmond, Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre. Elvis Andrus hit ninth for the first time this season, which Banister hopes helps ignite the bottom of the order. Andrus doubled in the fourth inning Friday but Mazara was thrown out at home to end the inning.
“I think we’re better when we have a prolonged attack, if you will. That’s what we’re looking towards with the way the lineup is structured right now,” Banister said. “When we were at our best last year, the on-base at the top of the lineup was crucial. We had speed at the top where we could extend innings and we continued to give the middle of our lineup an opportunity to drive in runs. This year, we’ve had two games where we’ve done that.”
With Choo back in the lineup for three innings, at least, the plan showed promise. We’ll find out Saturday afternoon whether Choo’s hamstring allows him to last longer than three innings.