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Sunday morning stuff

The nice little buzz from the beginning of spring training is still filling me with good feelings...I've even thinking, in my more optimistic moods, hey, if things go right, this team could maybe even knock off the Angels this year...

Ron Washington says he plans on having Milton Bradley hit cleanup, with Hank Blalock behind him, and Cat and Kinsler hitting leadoff (depending on if there's a lefty or right pitching).

I'm guessing the lineup projects as something like this:

Cat/Kinsler
Hamilton
Young
Bradley
Blalock
Byrd
Broussard
Kinsler/Botts (or whomever DHs instead of Cat against lefties)
Catcher

Grant mentions Bradley's historic success in the cleanup slot, and Blalock's historic struggles there. I'm not really a big believer that where you hit in the lineup has a big impact on your performance, but in Blalock's case, I think there's something to it...given how much of his struggles seem to be mental and stem from his approach (and his tendency to lapse into trying to pull everything), putting him in the cleanup spot -- the traditional "power" spot in the lineup -- could well be prompting him to try to hit for more power, triggering some of those bad habits that drag his performance down.

Evan Grant also has an article up on the efforts to change the Rangers' two-strike approach, that contains some interesting data:

In his first season as manager, Ron Washington struggled last year to get the Rangers to buy into being more efficient at the plate. When Washington asked players to make pitchers work early in games and move runners, it sometimes became interpreted as playing "small ball." The Swingin' Rangers bristled.

While some players took the small-ball approach, others kept swinging. It made the offense sputter. The Rangers scored 816 runs, their fewest since 1997.

"It doesn't work when you have only one or two guys doing it," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "It's got to be the whole team going in the same direction. It comes down to quality at-bats."

The Rangers lacked badly in that area last year. The Rangers have long been aggressive first-pitch swingers - and proud of it. Because of that, they had become predictable at the plate. Opponents often pitch "backward," setting up the fastball with early off-speed or breaking pitches. Ever the swingers, the Rangers chased anyway. They ended up with a hit on only 11.9 percent of their 1,631 first-pitch swings, the lowest percentage in the American League.

Missed or fouled first pitches obviously put hitters behind in the count. When the Rangers got behind in the count, they showed little ability to turn the at-bat into something positive.

The Rangers faced more 0-and-2 counts (1,653) than any club in the AL. They hit .152 at 0-and-2 or after 0-and-2. That, too, was the worst in the AL. When there were two strikes in a count, the Rangers had a .253 on-base percentage, better than only Kansas City (.249) and the Chicago White Sox (.244).

The worst of the Rangers' two-strike hitters are either gone (Brad Wilkerson and Sammy Sosa) or not assured of jobs (Nelson Cruz, Gerald Laird and Jason Botts). General manager Jon Daniels said the Rangers' off-season hitting acquisitions, particularly Milton Bradley and Josh Hamilton, were acquired in part because of their discriminating plate approaches.

"It's a mentality thing," Jaramillo said. "Our minds need to go to a different level when we get to two strikes and when we have situations. When you get to that point, either you get scared or you get tough. We've got to find a better way to grind the pitchers and get the job done."

Kinsler had a .291 on-base percentage with two strikes, second on the team to Marlon Byrd (.313). Along with Frank Catalanotto (.273), they were the only Rangers to finish the season above the league average for two-strike OBP, .269. Bradley (.325) and Hamilton (.289) were both above the league average in two-strike OBP.

I don't think it is any secret that I'm not a big fan of what is traditionally thought of as "small ball"...bunting, doing a lot of hitting and running and stealing, hitting behind runners...

But trying to work the count, and changing your approach with 2 strikes? I don't see that as small ball, personally. And the numbers bear out the idea that the Rangers need to quit hacking and do something different with 2 strikes. And if that was what Galloway was railing about when complaining about "small ball" a few days ago, well, one more reason to ignore his criticisms...

The other thing that jumps out at me about this article is that it leads off talking about how Rudy is emphasizing this point to the hitters from the beginning of camp, and is going to keep hammering the point throughout camp. Some of us have feared that the Rangers tendency to go up swinging early and often was a by-product of Jaramillo's philosophy...so seeing Jaramillo being vocal about the hitters needing to do things differently is a good sign...

Anthony Andro has an article up regarding Brandon McCarthy's offseason, with McCarthy saying he's changed his diet and workout regimen to get stronger, and has worked on his mechanics to get better balance (which should improve his strike throwing).

McCarthy is one of the most polarizing players on the Rangers, it seems, and I think there is a segment of the fan base out there who is never going to forgive him because the Rangers gave up John Danks and Nick Masset to get him. But he was one of the most highly regarded young pitchers in baseball before coming over to Texas, and he's still just 24 years old. How he does the next few years is going to have a pretty big impact on the Rangers' fortunes...

Speaking of McCarthy, Jim Reeves' column today is all Rangers-related, including some stuff on Ron Washington's second spring (and what he's learned since the first one) and Jon Daniels' plan for the franchise going forward...

But this jumped out at me:

Asked three Rangers' officials to give me the name of one darkhorse candidate to surprise us this season and got three different answers.

So keep an eye on Brandon McCarthy, Luis Mendoza and Ben Broussard.

T.R. Sullivan's notes also talk about the importance of McCarthy and Kason Gabbard staying healthy and productive for the Rangers this season...

The S-T notes for today include C.J. Wilson's top 5 video game franchises, and Kason Gabbard and Jason Jennings both being happy with their throwing sessions yesterday.

Grant's blog entry from last night touches on, among other things, the changes Luis Mendoza made since coming to Texas which have put him on the map, some number changes, and ruminations on Frankie Francisco's future...

T.R. Sullivan has his "Poor Toby's Almanac" blog entry up today, as well...