The most disappointing aspect of the Texas Rangers’ early-season struggles has to be their defense.
The offense was known to be a question mark, and the starting rotation has performed admirably in the wake of injuries to Yu Darvish and Derek Holland.
But the defense? It’s been shoddy the first month of the season despite manager Jeff Banister’s expectations to have a fundamentally sound team.
The Rangers had committed 21 errors before Friday’s game, tied with this weekend’s opponent, the Oakland A’s, for second most in the major leagues. Washington had a league-leading 24 before Friday’s game, and only the Nationals had a worse fielding percentage than Texas’ .973.
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Earlier this week, even before the Rangers committed four errors Wednesday, Banister switched up the pregame routine to include more intensive defensive drills. The infield, for instance, took ground balls from four fungo hitters simultaneously.
Normally, infielders would take grounders while another group of hitters took batting practice. The change allows the infielders to concentrate without worrying about the live batter at the plate. The infield works on throws to second, throws to first and turning double plays. The first baseman alternates between taking throws and ground balls.
The outfielders are also working at the same time.
“It’s not a reaction [to the 21 errors],” Banister said. “It’s based more on [our] beliefs and what works. Transitions a club who hasn’t done this type of stuff in the past and working them towards that, too.”
The drill is similar to one used in spring training. Only a handful of teams do it, including Banister’s former club, the Pirates, along with the Cardinals and Diamondbacks. Banister encourages his catchers and pitchers to get in on the action.
“We had talked in spring training about doing it throughout the year,” Banister said. “Get more reps, sharpen their focus. That’s a muscle you need to exercise, too.”
Nick Martinez (2-0) has the lowest ERA in the majors at 0.35. The next closest pitcher is Houston’s Dallas Keuchel at 0.73.
Martinez, who will start Saturday against Oakland, credits the fast start to his maturation as a pitcher. It’s a maturity that the former middle infielder started to show late last season when he compiled a 2.40 ERA in five September starts.
“Mental maturity,” Martinez said. “Understanding what I need to do and slowing the game down to where I can focus on one pitch at a time and focus on executing that one pitch.”
Martinez, 24, was drafted in 2011 and quickly moved up. He made 24 Rangers starts in 2014 because of a rash of injuries to the major league pitching staff. But the lumps he took a year ago are starting to pay off.
“It’s something you have to work on, and it takes getting your butt kicked a couple times,” he said. “I would have loved to have done it last year in the middle of it and nip it in the bud as early as I could. You live and learn and just applying what I learned last year to this year so far.”
The early success is something he hopes to build on.
“It definitely doesn’t hurt, absolutely,” he said. “You build on it, ride that way and repeat it, and keep it going.”
Rangers host PLAY
Elvis Andrus, Derek Holland and Ryan Rua will join the Rangers’ athletic training staff to help host the National PLAY Campaign on Saturday at Globe Life Park from 10 to 12:30 p.m.
The group was started by the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society to promote the importance of children living a healthy and active lifestyle.
Stefan Stevenson, 817-390-7760