Texas Rangers

Rangers’ most frustrating player working to shed that label

Things are trending upward for Rougned Odor, who entering Wednesday had upped his average from .171 to .242 over the past 40 games.
Things are trending upward for Rougned Odor, who entering Wednesday had upped his average from .171 to .242 over the past 40 games. The Associated Press

The one Texas Rangers player who, more than any other, has caused fans to pull out their hair, mutter under their breath, and embark on all-out Twitter cursing rants over the past 15 baseball months is, without question, Rougned Odor.

Does anyone need a refresher course as to why (he signed a six-year, $49.5 million deal in March 2017, turned in .204/.252/.397 slash line, and opened this season 1-for-15.)?

Along the way, the second baseman said that the tough times weren't that tough, that he was going to stick with his approach and be the hitter he had always been.

And late Tuesday, nearly an hour after hitting a home run and scoring three times in a loss to the Boston Red Sox, Odor said that, indeed, he has stuck to that approach.

But he also revealed two things of note:

He, too, was frustrated by his hitting woes. Really frustrated.

He recognizes that, despite his recent surge at the plate, he still has lots of work to do.

"I'm staying with the approach that I've been working on," Odor said. "I'm trying to swing at my pitch and trying to not swing at bad pitches. I've been feeling much better, and I'm seeing the ball much better.

"I don't feel good yet, but I feel happy because I'm getting there. I feel like me. I go up there to hit aggressive, but looking for my pitch."

Odor, though, is surging. His average sat at .171 40 games ago but has climbed to .242 after he went 1 for 4 in Wednesday's 4-2 loss to the Red Sox as Boston swept the three-game series at Fenway Park.

Left-handed ace Chris Sale gave Odor, and all other Rangers hitters, fits, as he struck out 12 in seven shutout innings. Shin-Soo Choo, who entered with a club-record and MLB-leading 48-game on-base streak, was out of the lineup as Adrian Beltre got a game at designated hitter.

Left-handed hitters were batting only .164 against Sale, who had a 10-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio vs. lefties entering Wednesday.

Odor remains susceptible to the strikeout, and on Monday he had three of them. He has cut down on chasing pitches out of the strike zone, though he's certainly not immune to them.

But he had been making more contact overall, as evidenced by his .280 average since May 24. Odor had struck out 38 times in 143 at-bats, a 27-percent K rate, but a hitter who rarely walks had drawn 14 of them.

Odor will never be confused for Tony Gwynn, but for a .204 hitter over 162 games last season to hit .280 over 40 games, that's a significant improvement.

"Nobody wants to hit .200," Odor said. "But I'm not worried about that. I'm focused on what I'm doing right now and am trying to help my team."

That includes improved defense. Odor entered Wednesday with a career-best 40-game streak without an error, but that was snapped with a second-inning gaffe that led to an unearned run.

The bat, though, is what produced his large contract extension and is what will keep him in good graces.

As bad as 2017 was, he did hit 30 homers for the second straight season. He had only six homers ahead of his encounter with Sale, but five of them came in his past 18 games.

Not only is Odor driving the ball — his solo shot Tuesday traveled an estimated 447 feet — he's hitting the ball the other way. That's a tell-tale sign that Odor is seeing the ball and staying within himself.

"It's the same approach, but I was looking for something and was swinging at other pitches," Odor said. "Right now, I'm just trying to be more focused with the approach and trust myself. That's what I'm doing."

He knows he's not a finished product and that it's not time to pat himself on the back. The key now is it to keep working and to find consistency.

Odor is only 24. He's got a long way to go.

"What I like most is the patience at the plate, looking for pitches to drive, and when he's getting a ball to hit, he's putting a good swing on it and getting the barrel to it," manager Jeff Banister said.

"He's accepted the challenge and work. Right now, he's in a good place. The key for him is to keep that mental state of mind and stay with the routine and stay with the things he's doing at the plate, and when things get a little sideways, remember what got him back to this place."

Texas Rangers designated hitter Shin-Soo Choo is the first Korean-born position player to earn an All-Star nod.

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