It's been said so many times this year, it couldn't hurt to say it once again: The 2021 Texas Rangers season is all about growth, development, and evaluation. The growing pains that accompany, in the form of a 7-23 record in their last 30 games, have been difficult for fans to watch.
Nick Solak's 2021 season embodies said growing pains this young Rangers team are learning to navigate. No, he's not alone. There have been plenty of other Ranger hitters this season who have had to battle through rough stretches. Even the team's most consistent hitter, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, had a 7-for-48 stretch over 12 games in April after getting off to a scorching hot start. But being the big leaguer that he is, Kiner-Falefa made adjustments and righted the ship.
A younger player like Nick Solak is still learning how to make adjustments.
In the first 25 games of the season, Solak was the Rangers' best hitter. He slashed .319/.404/.582/.986 with seven home runs and 14 RBI. All of the Michael Young comparisons came in abundance. After seasons of frustration with the production at second base, it looks like the Rangers had found the solution they needed.
But, as it always does, the league adjusted. And in the 41 games since, Solak owns a .176/.243/.268/.511 slash line with one home run and 12 RBI. June has been especially unkind to Solak, who has posted a .382 OPS in the first 11 games of the month.
During times like these, results can cure everything. If batted balls start hitting the outfield grass or the bleachers in the outfield, you move on and chalk it up as a rough stretch or bad slump. But when balls aren't finding holes in the infield or anything you put in play finds a glove, it can be deflating, especially for a young player.
The game of baseball has a natural way of presenting hitters with a gateway out of the struggle. In a game that looked like it was all but wrapped up, the Rangers fought back from a 5-0 deficit in the ninth inning of Sunday's game to pull within two runs. Texas loaded the bases with nobody out, but then Joey Gallo and Nate Lowe popped out. Suddenly, Solak was presented with an opportunity where a base hit likely ties the ballgame.
“He’s been having a rough go as far as the results go,” said Rangers manager Chris Woodward. “He’s obviously fighting up there. In the last at-bat, I told a few guys on the bench that might be an at-bat he remembers — I know he's frustrated right now that he got out — but that might be an at-bat where he looks back and says, 'Okay, maybe that's the turning point."
Solak grounded out to second base, but not before fighting long-time Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen for nine pitches. Solak's adversity meter was already dialed to 11 given the situation, then home plate umpire Joe West put Solak in an 0-2 hole after calling two pitches out of the zone as strikes.
But Solak battled. He took a tough down-and-away slider — a pitch that has been his nemesis during this lengthy slump. Solak was able to foul off tough pitch after tough pitch, where Chris Woodward said he saw Solak getting his "A" swing off, and perhaps most importantly, getting closer to being on time.
“He hadn’t been able to do that for the last week or so," Woodward said. "Maybe that situation forced him to get on time and do some things."
And so the growth continues. When the Rangers began the season 18-18 in the first 36 games of the season, there was a reason it was above most expectations. Now that reality has set in over the past several weeks, it's moments like this we should look for and see how the players respond.
Solak isn't alone. This young Rangers team is full of players trying to navigate an actual big league season (forget that 2020 fiasco) for the first time as regular players. It's easy when players have tangible results to point to and say, "Hey! Growth!"
But it's in these moments, where a player does everything right and still fails, that's when a player's mettle is tested.
"This is growth, man," Woodward said. "This is learning.”
More on SI's Inside The Rangers:
- On The Road To Recovery, Rangers Top Prospect Josh Jung Has Learned To 'Surrender'
- Rangers Bats Explode In Blowout of Dodgers, Ending Historic Losing Streak
- How And When Do Managers Police Pitchers For Their 'Sticky Stuff'?
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