The Texas Rangers are not ready to write off the 2015 season.
Last week, during a 5-2 road trip, veteran players asserted themselves while young players stepped up to the task more often than not.
The week started May 4 with both general manager Jon Daniels and manager Jeff Banister explicitly hailing the coming week as a put-up or shut-up moment for key parts of the roster.
A week later, they acted.
Struggling second baseman Rougned Odor was sent down to Triple A Round Rock and replaced by Tommy Field, who started Monday’s 8-2 series-opening win against the Kansas City Royals at Globe Life Park and hit his first career home run in the seventh inning.
Odor, 21, was battling a season-long slump in which he was hitting .144 with 25 strikeouts in 29 games. He had lost his starting spot this past week as the club tried to help him snap out of his hitting funk.
He started just two of the past seven games and did not get a plate appearance in the past three. He was 3 for his last 30 with 12 strikeouts and no walks dating to April 28.
“We felt it was time for Rougie to go down and get back to being the type of player that actually got him here,” Banister said. “That gritty, gutsy, blue-collar player that was a tough at-bat, played routine defense. A guy that typically on any given night played like his hair was on fire; he was all over the place.”
The player Odor was a year ago after only 62 games at Double A Frisco was a pleasant surprise for the Rangers. He was thrust into the big leagues after a rash of injuries, including to Jurickson Profar, and the departure of Ian Kinsler.
After his May 8 call-up, only three months after his 20th birthday, Odor became an everyday player. He finished the season with an impressive .259 batting average and 30 extra-base hits, including nine homers. He was young and free swinger who struck out 71 times and drew just 17 walks, but his aggressiveness at the plate often caught pitchers off guard.
This season, however, Odor, while still young (the youngest position player in the American League), was no longer a secret to pitchers. They took advantage of his big swing and aggressiveness, often throwing more pitches out of the strike zone.
“We just felt like the at-bats were not going the way he wanted them to go, the way we wanted them to go,” Banister said. “So as opposed to being an extra player, go down and continue to get work, get reconnected with what has made him a success to this point, what he came up to the big leagues with last year.”
Field, 28, was hitting .298 with 14 extra-base hits at Round Rock. He attended Waco Midway High School and Texas State before the Rockies selected him in the 24th round of the 2008 draft. He played in 33 major league games with the Rockies and Angels from 2011-2013. He spent 2014 at Triple A for both the Angels and Pirates.
Field, who homered in his fourth plate appearance Monday, also walked and scored a run during the Rangers’ four-run second inning. His solo homer to center in the seventh made it 7-1.
“It’s kind of a dream-come-true night. Got to fly in, play in front of my friends and family and hit my first career home run and play for the Texas Rangers,” Field said.
“They came from Waco as soon I as made the call. They drove up the highway. When I landed my wife told me, ‘Hey you’re in the lineup, so be ready.’”
He also helped turn a 5-4-3 inning-ending double play in seventh inning for starter Colby Lewis, who improved to 3-2 with the victory. Lewis held the Royals to one run on three hits over seven innings and lowered his ERA from 3.75 to 2.40. Lewis has gone at least six innings in five of his seven starts.
“Doesn’t surprise us, really, the competitor that he is,” Banister said. “You can see the look [in his eyes] and he talks about how good he feels.”
Lewis located his fastball well, he said. He struck out five and relied on his defense, including a run-erasing laser from Leonys Martin to catcher Robinson Chirinos to catch Mike Moustakas trying to score from second.
“[The Royals] had a chance to cut the lead in half [in the fourth] and Leonys came up with the huge throw from center field and got that big out. I was pretty pumped about that,” Lewis said.
Field was chosen over other second base options, including veterans Ed Lucas (Round Rock) and Tyler Pastornicky (Double A Frisco). Field had the edge because of his versatility, Banister said, which includes experience at shortstop and third base.
Shortstop Elvis Andrus expects Odor’s demotion to be temporary.
“It’s not a good feeling, but he needs that time to work on his approach to the game,” Andrus said. “Just get that confidence back. I believe that’s what he didn’t have right now, but he’s a really talented young guy. As soon as he gets that back, he’ll be back for sure.”
Andrus, who has served as a mentor to Odor, talked with him about the move.
“I told him don’t take this the wrong way,” Andrus said. “Take this as an opportunity to go down to Triple A and just work on what he needs to do and get back that confidence level, establish himself again. I just told him as soon as they see that you’re going to get called up again.”
The Rangers, including Daniels, Banister and Odor’s teammates, remain confident that he can recapture his stroke.
“Rougie is definitely going to be part of the winning formula here in Arlington,” Banister said. “It’s not unlike a lot of players that have come up at a young age and had an amount of success ... they throw a punch at you and you have to go down and get reconnected again so you can come back up better and more capable of throwing a counter punch.”
Said Andrus: “He seemed like he understood. It’s going to happen. I told him ‘You still have a long career ahead of you.’ He’s young and he can fix it real quick.”
Stefan Stevenson, 817-390-7760