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Wednesday morning first place Texas Rangers news

With the Angels falling to Detroit last night, the Rangers are back in a tie for first place in the A.L. West...

And I have to say, I really like the way Hank Blalock is looking at the plate right now. This is the Hank Blalock we've been waiting to see, not that pull-conscious guy who was around last year.

180 degrees away from that, though, is CoCo "the Vulture" Cordero, who, as Jamey Newberg pointed out this morning, is third in the A.L. in wins right now, by virtue of vulturing victories that should be going to other pitchers. Gil LeBreton talks about Cordero's continuing failures this season, although he stops short of saying that Cordero must go.

The closer situation was the focus of Evan Grant's game story today, and it sounds like patience is wearing thin:

But manager Buck Showalter acknowledged the Cordero situation is causing the Rangers to rethink the bullpen makeup. Cordero has converted three of seven save chances this year. His ERA has ballooned to 12.00. Batters are hitting .333 against him.

Showalter didn't say the club would make a temporary change at closer but said the team would re-evaluate the situation daily. To make a change means shifting a lot of roles in the bullpen and moving lights-out setup man Akinori Otsuka to closer. What would become of Cordero is uncertain.

That's why the Rangers resist making a change. They don't want to create more problems than they already have.

"I'm not blind to the problems," Showalter said. "It's something we will continue to address. We've got a lot of good pitchers out there. If something needs to be done, then the pitchers will hear it from me first. It works better for us if [Cordero] can do that job."

Cordero pleaded to continue to do the job after Tuesday. But with each blown save, a picture is emerging of a closer with a complex problem. Originally, the Rangers thought it was as simple as getting Cordero to rely more on his fastball. Well, he threw a steady diet of fastballs, some reaching 97 mph Tuesday, and still got beat.

Though he had velocity, he lacked command. He was unable to get balls down or to the corners. Mark Kotsay singled on one fastball to start the inning. Nick Swisher watched four of them zoom all around the strike zone for a walk. Eric Chavez moved the runners up with one groundout. The fourth run scored on a second.

Then Cordero tried to overpower Dan Johnson, hitting just .100 for the year, with more fastballs. Didn't work, either. Johnson doubled into the gap in left center to tie the score. Cordero managed to get out of the inning with the score tied.

Meanwhile, on the catching fiasco...Kat O'Brien has a few quotes from Rod Barajas about his current slump, in which he says this is as bad a slump as he's ever had. But Richard Durrett says Buck isn't considering changing the catching arrangement.

Shocking news, I know. If Barajas continues to slump, I expect to start seeing articles talking about Barajas's great defense, and how it doesn't matter if he hits because he's a major reason why the Ranger pitching staff is doing so well.

You've really got to wonder, though, what is going through Gerald Laird's mind right now.

Think about it...the guy won the starting job in 2004 out of spring training, and was considered a ROY candidate until he got hurt on a play at the plate. He came back before he was 100% healthy because the team needed him to be the backup catcher, couldn't swing the bat, and ended up losing his starting job to Rod Barajas because of a 6 week hot streak Barajas -- a veteran who had never shown he could hit well enough to be a regular catcher -- had early in the season.

Laird stayed in Surprise to rehab his injured thumb rather than go to winter ball, and then learned that he'd be spending 2005 in AAA from the media after Sandy Alomar Jr. signed. He went to AAA, had a great year, made the all-star team and was named the top defensive catcher in the league, but couldn't get promoted back to the majors until rosters expanded, and even then got little playing time.

Then, even though the incumbent catcher is a mediocrity who Laird had already beat out for the starting job once, Buck Showalter told anyone who would listen this spring that Rod Barajas was his starting catcher, and if Gerald Laird wanted to be the starter, he could go be the starter in AAA. Now, Barajas is mired in an awful slump, Laird is hitting well (and playing great defense), and yet Laird still is only going to get to play once a week.

If I were Laird, it would be making me a little bit crazy.

Kevin Mench, on the other hand, is in a groove, as Jan Hubbard discusses.

And Evan Grant's latest newsletter is out...