Shin-Soo Choo is a thoughtful hitter. He studies his swing and the art of hitting like the great hitters have always done.
But he’s not interested in dissecting too deeply his current 12-game hit streak. As if worried that looking too closely at his recent success will jinx him at the plate, he’d prefer to keep well enough alone and to just let his swing continue to do the talking.
Like the leadoff homer he roped down the right-field line in the first inning Tuesday that gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead against the Kansas City Royals. The Royals (21-12) evened the series with a 7-6 win when Alex Gordon homered in the 10th inning off Stolmy Pimentel in front of 23,659 at Globe Life Park. The Rangers dropped to 14-19.
Choo added another hit to start the seventh but was thrown out at third when he stumbled rounding second on Elvis Andrus’ single to left. Andrus tied it at 5-5 when he scored on Kyle Blanks’ check-swing single over first base.
Choo led off the ninth with his third hit to raise his average to .214. He was hitting below .100 just over a week ago. Jake Smolinski pinch-ran for Choo and scored from second base on Adrian Beltre’s two-out, full-count single to right-center to tie it at 6-6.
Although Choo isn’t too keen on analyzing the reasons, something changed with the Rangers’ offense when he was put in the leadoff spot last week in Houston at the start of a 5-2 road trip.
As Choo shed his April-long slump, so did the Texas’ offense.
In the first 21 games of the season, the Rangers had 67 RBIs while batting a league-low .210 as a team. In May, they already have 51 RBIs in just 11 games.
In their last nine games, including Tuesday night, they’ve had at least eight hits six times. They’ve also been more selective at the plate, collecting 33 walks in the past nine games, including three Tuesday.
Choo’s leadoff homer was the first by the Rangers since Leonys Martin did it last September. Martin, who had led off for much of the season, may not make it back to the spot as long as the offense keeps its current pace.
“You need a fire starter,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. “You can’t start a fire without a spark.”
The Bruce Springsteen lyric aside, Banister believes the offensive surge has been contagious from one hitter to the next.
“When you don’t have anything at the top of the lineup doing that for you it’s tough to get that offense jump-started. I’d give a lot of credit to it,” he said. “But also those guys in the middle that have been able to punch through.”
That includes Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre, who have snapped out of slow starts. Both have improved their averages drastically. Beltre, who is now hitting .250, was at .205 when May began. Andrus, who was hitting below .200 the first three weeks of the season, is up to .233.
“When you see a hitter in front of you barrel a baseball and get on base that gives you, the next hitter, some confidence, it’s the passing of the baton,” Banister said. “One of your greatest assets as a hitter is to enter the box with confidence. And you can see that in a hitter. And pitchers can see when hitters don’t have it. I do think it’s crucial.”
Choo doesn’t see any magical formula for the turn around, especially not him moving to leadoff.
“I don’t think so. I get pitched the same. They don’t pitch where I’m hitting,” he said. “I think it just happens. Last road trip, everything has come together, pitching and defense. When we have an opportunity, we get the run.”
But Choo knows that he can set a tone offensively for the Rangers as the leadoff hitter, a spot he became a star at with the Indians and Reds.
“All I care about is winning, that’s what I’m here for. I feel really comfortable,” He said. “I don’t care where I’m hitting. Most important part for me is to help the team.”
Choo is also giving the rest of the lineup a better first look at the opposing pitcher. He’s not averse to taking pitches.
“If he gets on base, you’re almost ensured of the fourth guy and possibly the fifth guy coming to the plate,” Banister said. “That rotation of the lineup is vital, getting as many at-bats throughout the game as we can. Not allowing the 1-2-3 out innings to happen.”