Nomar Mazara knows the Texas Rangers need more from him.
The 24-year-old outfielder has been an everyday starter for the Rangers since he was called up in 2016. He was penciled in as a cornerstone of the offense after solid rookie and sophomore seasons.
But his production — shockingly consistent through his first four seasons — has been disappointingly staid the past two years.
Mazara entered Friday’s series opener against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park batting .258 with 12 homers and 51 RBIs.
That’s in line with what he has produced in previous years, including hitting 20 home runs in each of the past three seasons and averaging .258 in his career.
But Rangers manager Chris Woodward wants more, and Mazara knows it.
“I’ve had the same numbers the past four years. Obviously, I don’t want to be where I’m at,” Mazara said before the Rangers’ 4-3 loss to the Astros. “I want to keep getting better. I don’t want to just stay there. There’s plenty of room for me to develop and improve.”
Nailing down exactly how he could do that, however, remains elusive. Neither Mazara nor Woodward can pinpoint exactly what Mazara is doing differently at the plate when he’s crushing the ball and when he’s mired in a 0-for-20 stretch. Woodward did say, much like Joey Gallo in past seasons, needs to settle on a comfortable swing that cuts down on excess movement. Mazara was 0 for 4 with three strikeouts Friday night.
“He’s been really open, especially lately,” Woodward said. “He wants to be better. He’s expressed that to us many times. I’m not trying to point fingers at anybody for being complacent, but we’ve challenged him, and Maz has accepted that.”
Woodward told Mazara to try whatever it takes to take his game to another level. If it requires some poor outings at the plate while he experiments with something, no problem, Woodward said.
“We told him to be creative in his problem solving,” he said. “Let’s figure out why he can’t get to that next level. That’s the journey. I’ve asked him to embrace that difficulty. It’s hard. I don’t mind him taking a step backward to take two forward. I don’t care if he struggles in a game or two if he’s trying something different to produce hopefully longer-term results. He knows that.”
Woodward hopes veterans such as Shin-Soo Choo and Hunter Pence, both of whom have had to alter long-held styles and beliefs to keep their careers productive, are an inspiration to younger plays such as Mazara and Rougned Odor, who has struggled even more.
“I just don’t want anybody on our team to be satisfied with where they are,” he said. “(Mazara) wants to get to a higher level. But it’s not going to happen over night and we know that. Keep pushing. There will be some uncomfortable days. I think it’s important they go through that. They need to know it’s OK to be uncomfortable at times.”
Mazara points to improvement from earlier this season when he was batting below .200 as proof that he can make adjustments. But he also knows this: The Rangers had him pegged for a 100 RBI, 30 homer-hitting slugger three years ago, and besides his 101 RBIs in 2017, he hasn’t produced those kinds of numbers.
Mazara said the high expectations are fine with him.
“That’s good, though, because it motivates you to keep working harder,” he said. “If you don’t motivate yourself, nobody is going to do it. Sometimes stuff takes time. I’m not going to give up. No matter what everybody is saying.”
Mazara is one of those players who can make hitting look really easy when he’s in a groove. When he’s not, of course, he looks lost. And his low-key demeanor, which is great for the clubhouse, can translate to apathy through a television screen. That’s not fair to Mazara, of course, but it helps form a false narrative among some that he’s complacent.
“This (game) is not easy, but I’m not going to put my head down. I’m going to keep working,” he said. “I’m not going to let anyone get in my head.”