Anthony Iapoce returned to his hometown Monday as the hitting coach for the team with the best record in the American League and as the overseer of an offense that scores plenty of runs despite not doing much exceptionally well.
Though third in the American League in runs scored, the Rangers were only fifth in hits and batting average entering Monday in the Bronx. The Rangers were also seventh in slugging percentage and tied with Cleveland for seventh in home runs. They don’t walk much, but they don’t strike out a ton either.
It’s a winning offense.
“With this group of guys, it’s not about statistics. It’s about playing for the guy behind you, playing for each other and picking each other up,” said Iapoce, who grew up in nearby Astoria. “When you have a bunch of guys doing that, playing unselfish baseball, you find a way to score runs.”
Banister credited Iapoce and his assistants Justin Mashore and Bobby Jones for preaching a team-first approach in spring training and pounding home the point to Rangers hitters ever since.
“The hitting coaches have done a great job,” Banister said. “You saw it in spring training. Guys put it in play and believed in it. Now you see it during the season. It took a little while early on for us to sell out to it, but I believe our guys continue to sell out to it.”
Iapoce knows a little something about scoring runs in the Bronx too, though it’s been 25 years. He was the starting center fielder for Monsignor McClancy Memorial High School in Queens in 1991, when he scored twice in a 3-2 victory against Brooklyn Xaverian High School to win the city championship at the old Yankee Stadium.
A large group of family and friends was expected to be on hand Monday for the opener of a four-game series against the New York Yankees.
“You expect at some point to meet up with the Yankees at Yankee Stadium,” Iapoce said. “I think they’re more excited than I am.”
Prince Fielder took an eight-game hitting streak into Monday and was batting .333 during the streak to bump his average to .211.
That average doesn’t sound like much, but it is a big jump for Fielder. He was batting only .187 June 4, when he was given consecutive days off in hopes of getting him going again.
Fielder batted .284 over the next 19 games. The key has been controlling the strike zone. Everything else has been the same.
“As far as the physical side, it’s still the same swing,” Iapoce said. “He’s shrinking the plate to where he can actually get his pitch to hit and drive balls. You can see right now he’s really confident at the plate.”
So is Shin-Soo Choo, who hit .298 in his first 12 games off the disabled list. He has played only 18 games this season because of two stints on the disabled list, but has a .418 on-base percentage.
Like Fielder, Choo is controlling the strike zone. But he said the key is that he never allowed his mind to stray from baseball while he was out for nearly two months.
“The first thing is mentality,” Choo said. “I wasn’t with the team the first 2 1/2 months. I wasn’t playing, but my mentality was always with this team. I felt like I played yesterday when I came back in Oakland.”
▪ Jurickson Profar, Ryan Rua, Bobby Wilson, all right-handed hitters, are likely to be in the starting lineup Tuesday against Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia. Righties and lefties have the same average of .235 against Sabathia, but righties have a .408 on-base percentage against him.
▪ Banister confirmed that the Rangers aren’t expecting lefty Derek Holland (shoulder inflammation) to return before the All-Star break. Holland said that he expects to throw for the first time since June 20 on Wednesday.