What a difference a couple weeks can make.
Not too long ago, the Rangers were struggling to find a trio of outfielders who could help the offense in any tangible way.
While the entire offense pretty much sputtered through the month of April, the outfield contribution, specifically, became the lightning rod for everything wrong with the lineup.
Right fielder Shin-Soo Choo was in a career-low slump and was benched for a few days. Center fielder Leonys Martin was scuffling at the plate and was removed from the leadoff spot. And left fielder Jake Smolinski, while defensively sturdy, struggled at the plate, at least statistically, with a .140 batting average after a 1 for 17 start in his first nine games when Ryan Rua went down with an heel injury.
Now, however, with the return of Josh Hamilton looming perhaps as early as next week, there could be an influx of productive outfielders deserving of a spot in the lineup.
Choo continued his torrid streak Wednesday with his second consecutive leadoff homer in the first to trigger the Rangers’ 5-2 win over the Kansas City Royals in front of a paid attendance of 26,258 at Globe Life Park. He added another single in the third as his American League-best hit streak stretched to 13 games. It’s his fourth consecutive multi-hit game. In 13 games in May, Choo has 19 hits and is batting over .340 — a sharp contrast from his five hits in 16 games in April.
“I’ve never seen that happen in my baseball career, but I knew at some point, I’d turn the page,” Choo said. “A lot of people believed in me and trusted me.”
Yovani Gallardo (3-5) won for the first time in his past five starts after holding the Royals scoreless until two seventh-inning runs.
The Rangers (15-19) are 8-5 in May after opening the season 7-14 in April. They’ll go for their first series win at home at 1:05 p.m. Thursday as left-hander Ross Detwiler (0-4) faces Royals righty Jeremy Guthrie (2-2).
“Run support was a big key for him tonight,” Banister said of Gallardo. “I don’t think he really had his best stuff ... but he was able to get outs when he needed them. Veteran guys know how to pitch with leads.”
Choo isn’t the only outfielder producing of late. Rookie Delino DeShields has been a spark plug with consistent playing time in May, Choo said. Choo and and DeShields combined for five of the Rangers’ 11 hits.
“I give a lot of credit to Delino,” Choo said. “He hit in the ninth spot, he got on base, probably a couple times in the game, putting a lot of pressure on the pitcher and fielders. Makes pitchers uncomfortable on the mound.”
DeShields has started eight of the last 11 games and has eight hits, 11 runs scored and seven of his team-leading nine stolen bases in the stretch.
“The more at-bats I get the more comfortable,” said DeShields, who had a career-high three hits, including a double and triple Wednesday. “I just think it’s the repetitions. My work when I wasn’t playing and kind of having pretend at-bats in my head and staying prepared for an opportunity [has helped me]. I feel really good at the plate.”
Add to the mix Carlos Peguero, whose recent power burst includes four homers and seven RBIs in May compared with no homers and two RBIs in April and the Rangers are suddenly presented with several viable options. Peguero, however, struck out in all four at-bats Wednesday.
Once Hamilton returns, who goes? Smolinski was sent down to Triple A Round Rock on Wednesday to make room for first baseman Mitch Moreland, who came off the disabled list and started. He singled in his first at-bat and finished with two hits and a walk.
First baseman Kyle Blanks has been another pleasant surprise and could be an option in the outfield. With Moreland and Blanks both producing at the plate, Banister could ask one of them to play some in left.
But both have recently had injury issues with their ankles. In fact, Blanks was replaced late in Tuesday’s game and did not play Wednesday to give both his ankles some rest.
“The question is how do I get all three of them in the lineup at the same time?” Banister said, cutting to the chase of the topic before Wednesday’s game. “Being extremely creative and finding a way to have all three of them in the lineup at the same time, that’s a good problem to have. They all three can swing the bat.”
“I think this is a very dynamic lineup as it is,” Moreland said. “If we can get [Hamilton] back up here, it can only help us ... I was only gone for a couple days, but it’s been fun to watch them and if they can continue, maybe I can jump in there and join it with them.”
He did Wednesday. And another slugger is around the corner.
Stefan Stevenson, 817-390-7760