Texas Rangers

Here’s why rookie Nick Solak is batting in the clean-up spot for the Texas Rangers

Nick Solak on finding himself in the clean-up spot in Rangers lineup

Texas Rangers infielder Nick Solak connected Thursday for a two-run homer in another game in the No. 4 spot in the lineup.
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Texas Rangers infielder Nick Solak connected Thursday for a two-run homer in another game in the No. 4 spot in the lineup.

The player who won the game Thursday night for the Texas Rangers, who hit a two-run homer and scored another time, was their clean-up hitter.

That spot has been reserved at times in Rangers past for Jeff Burroughs, Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez, Mark Teixeira, Vladimir Guerrero, Adrian Beltre and Joey Gallo.

That’s a group of All-Star, Silver Sluggers, MVPs and even a Hall of Famer and a future Cooperstown inductee.

So, maybe good things are ahead for Nick Solak, who because of injuries finds himself in the heart of the Rangers’ lineup.

As a rookie who entered the day with 50 career at-bats.

But he connected in the seventh inning to erase a 1-0 deficit en route to a 3-1 win over the Baltimore Orioles. He was back in the lineup Friday, and back in the fourth spot in the order.

Solak is the best option the Rangers currently have, and he hasn’t been intimated by it.

“Wherever I’m at in the lineup, I’m trying to put together good at-bats,” said Solak, who was promoted to the big leagues Aug. 20. “Trying to find ways to get on base, score runs and drive them in. Wherever that is in the lineup, I’m willing to do that.

“Throughout my career in the minor leagues, I’ve hit leadoff through nine. I’ve probably hit in every spot at some point in my career, so clean-up is one of those spots that I’ve been lineup before. Nothing changes. I’m just trying to stay the same and do the same things.”

Willie Calhoun swung the big bat in a 7-6 win. He hit homers in his first two at-bats and finished with a career-high four RBIS, and Shin-Soo Choo and Elvis Andrus drove in runs hits in the seventh inning as the Rangers rallied to a second straight win.

Solak was 0 for 3 with a walk, and his at-bats have been among the best on the team of late, if not the best.

It’s not just the hits (.321 average entering Friday) or walks (seven), but how he has worked counts and taken good swings in most at-bats.

“He’s just quality every time,” manager Chris Woodward said. “He stays in the strike zone and he gets good swings on strikes. He right now represents the best right-handed option, especially in the clean-up spot.”

Solak’s spot in the lineup says a lot about what the Rangers don’t have.

Woodward admitted that Solak wouldn’t be batting fourth if Gallo, Hunter Pence and Nomar Mazara were healthy. Gallo (hand) is closing in on games, though he’s at least a week away, but the Rangers aren’t sure when Pence (back) and Mazara (oblique) will play again.

But Solak wouldn’t be batting, say, eighth, if those three were active. He would be hitting fifth or sixth, Woodward said, and that says a lot about Solak.

His power has come on the past few seasons.

“I think I’ve just kind of grown into it,” Solak said. “I’ve always had the ability to hit and drive the ball around the field. I’m getting a little stronger, and staying in a similar approach has helped some of those balls in the past that were in the gaps go over the fence.”

And while others in the lineup might be pressing to do more with three big bats on the bench, Solak been even-keel. Even in the clean-up spot.

“That’s something we talk about a lot,” Woodward said. “If can control your heart rate out there and you have a lower on than the other guys, you typically win.”

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After 11 seasons covering the Rangers for the Star-Telegram, Jeff Wilson knows that baseball is a 24/7/365 business and there is far more to baseball than just the 162 games each season. There’s also more to Jeff -- like a family and impressive arsenals of Titleist hats and adidas shoes -- but sometimes it’s hard to tell.
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