Nothing that Texas Rangers hitters have been hearing this spring rates as revolutionary offensive theory.
The goal is to excel in situational hitting. In previous regimes, the Rangers were asked to do whatever the game asked of them.
If a runner needs to be moved over, move him over. If a groundout to a second baseman who is playing deep gets a runner home from third with less than two outs, that will work.
Michael Young started spring training 2012 with a grounder to second base to get a runner to third with one out, and was treated like he’d hit a two-run homer.
Such personal sacrifices for the common good of the team are always met with a high-five or a pat on the butt. The players seem to recognize the instances when a teammate practices what has been preached.
But there’s a new hitting preacher in camp this season, first-year hitting coach Anthony Iapoce. The central message of what he is asking the Rangers to do is similar to his predecessors, but the message is hitting home more.
The Rangers are hitting home more, too. They’re doing more of just about everything offensively compared to last season.
As third baseman Adrian Beltre says each spring, what happens in the Cactus League has no bearing on what will happen in the American League. The AL-high runs (173) and slugging percentage (.494) and the second-best average (.310) won’t mean squat come Opening Day.
Our message has been clear in here since Day One. We’ve got a lot of the same guys, and this is a clubhouse and staff and group of players that are going to be on board with our goal.
First baseman Mitch Moreland
But those marks entering Sunday, along with a baseball-best 18 sacrifice flies and the third-best on-base percentage (.362), tell Iapoce, assistant hitting coach Justin Mashore and manager Jeff Banister that the message is being heard better than ever, and that it can carry over into the regular season.
“It’s still spring training, but you’re happy to see guys having good at-bats, especially with runners on base,” said Iapoce, who replaced Dave Magadan in the off-season.
“We’re not necessarily looking at the success of the at-bat, as far as a hit. We’re looking at if their plan and approach and what they’re putting into play is good, and if they’re grinding and having good team at-bats.”
The latest piece of evidence came Sunday during a 5-4 victory over Arizona. The Rangers collected 12 hits and went 4 for 8 with runners in scoring position
The message isn’t just when runners are on base, but also applies to getting runners on base. Hitters are urged to use the big part of the field and to make the pitcher throw them their pitch rather than chasing his.
Things are dialed up once someone reaches base.
Behind the message the hitters are being given is more evidence to support that the message works, Banister said. The coaches present statistics and video to back up their points, and they are more vocal in the dugout as they try to keep players thinking about game situations.
The Rangers entered Sunday with the most spring runs (173) and highest slugging percentage in the American League (.494), and the second-best average (.310). They led the majors in sacrifice flies (18).
The players deserve credit, too. They might have heard the message in the past, but only now with more experience and another voice does it look like they will be able to execute better.
Even the players see the difference this spring compared to last, when the Rangers batted .268 and followed it up with the majors’ worst April batting average at a meager .210.
“Just the message that Poce brought in, especially with that first meeting, of competing and having that team ego and playing for each other and the little stuff to stay locked in and have those fundamental at-bats when we need them to win ballgames,” first baseman Mitch Moreland said.
“It was a great message, a great start and something we’ve definitely done well and built on. It’ll be a lot of fun during the year to keep doing that.”
Moreland said last week that the Rangers’ offense is going to be “stout.” Confidence doesn’t appear to be lacking after the Rangers batted .270 in the second half en route to a the AL West title.
Neither does camaraderie, an aspect after his first six weeks that has impressed Iapoce the most about the Rangers. There’s no shortage of talent, but Iapoce doesn’t want to sell short how hard the hitters have worked.
And, apparently, listened to his message. That can carry over to the regular season.
“I’m most pleased with the approach,” Banister said. “We talked about last year we struggled with it early. We sputtered around with it. It took hold down the stretch.
“I think Anthony and Justin have done a great job of communicating that and getting the buy-in from our players. They’ve seen what success looks like when you have a situational approach. Understand that every at-bat, every pitch, win-the-pitch mentality is the approach.”