Gil LeBreton

Time for Rangers to show some tough love for Odor, Napoli

Somewhere along the way from American Hero to the new contract and the two quarter horses, Rougned Odor of the Texas Rangers has lost his way.

We all remember the moment — May 15, 2016, eighth inning — when Odor rocked the bully of all major league playground bullies, Toronto’s Jose Bautista, with a fearless right jab.

But after a promising first week of the 2017 season, young Odor hasn’t hit much of anything.

The Rangers second baseman began play Thursday with a .206 batting average and .614 OPS. Before Wednesday night’s ninth-inning single, he was 3 for his last 42. Among MLB regular second basemen Odor’s average ranks next to last.

The visuals are even worse. He has looked awful at the plate, swinging at pitches that sometimes look like the day’s First Pitch honoree sailed in. He has walked exactly once in the Rangers’ last 29 games.

What are the Rangers going to do with him? And while we’re at it, what can they do with an equally struggling Mike Napoli?

Odor and Napoli, two fan favorites, are linked by their hitting futility. More to the point, they have been two easy outs for most of this season — a combined eight outs per game most nights, a concession that a .500 baseball team can no longer afford to make.

Napoli, with his Popeye arms and beehive beard, has been a lovable good luck charm at stops in Texas (three times), Boston and Cleveland. The cellphone photo of him, celebrating the Red Sox’ 2013 World Series triumph sloshed and shirtless in the streets around Fenway Park, cemented his image forever.

But it’s been no party at Napoli’s this season.

The first baseman-DH began Thursday with a .191 batting average and was 1 for 17 on the road trip. His hitting issues, however, go back to last season in Cleveland.

Since Aug. 16 of last year, a span of 119 games that includes the Indians’ postseason run, Napoli has batted 412 times and produced a slash line of .177/.273/.350/.623. The batting average and OBP are 70 points below his career numbers.

At age 35, Napoli may have seen his final big league party. The options are sadly thin.

Manager Jeff Banister dropped him to eighth in Thursday’s lineup against Cleveland right-hander Corey Kluber. But when a 35-year-old veteran shows a decline in bat speed dating back to last August, what is playing against one of the league’s toughest righties going to solve?

By the end of July, at the latest, the Rangers may have to make a tough decision on Napoli. It’s likely he will be a free agent after this season and doubtful any team would offer him a major league contract.

Odor’s situation is different. He is 12 years younger than Napoli and, in March, signed a six-year, $49.5-million contract that included the two horses.

A previous skid in 2015 led to Odor being sent to Triple-A Round Rock for a month to remedy his batting ills. He responded by returning to the big club in June and batting .292 with an .861 OPS the rest of the way.

His career star seemed to be still ascending when, suddenly, opposing pitchers realized this season that they didn’t have to throw Odor a strike to get him out. He was doing a consistent job of that himself.

He has started every one of the Rangers’ 79 games, which suggests the club thinks Odor has a hitting switch, just waiting to be turned on.

I’m not advocating that the Rangers do what the Cubs did with Kyle Schwarber — another Triple-A remedial trip. But it’s not helping a sputtering lineup when a .206 hitter is being penciled into the middle of it almost every day.

He needs to be sitting out a day or two and batting at the bottom of the lineup until he figures out baseball again.

The Rangers began Thursday with a .240 team batting average, lowest in the American League. That’s not all the fault of Rougned Odor and Mike Napoli.

Fans love them. The Rangers clearly love them. But it’s time for some tough love.

Gil LeBreton: @gilebreton

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