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4 Texas Rangers Even if Alfonso Soriano hits like A-Rod, the pitching won't lift them out of last

April 05, 2004
April 05, 2004

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April 5, 2004

Baseball Preview 2004

4 Texas Rangers Even if Alfonso Soriano hits like A-Rod, the pitching won't lift them out of last

The all-star second baseman and the $120 million of financial
relief that the Rangers received in the Alex Rodriguez trade were
essential, but the key to the deal for Texas just might be a
53-year-old man who hasn't come any closer to facing big league
pitching than leaning against the cage during batting practice.
That's the position Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo was in
for much of the spring, scrutinizing the swing, stance and psyche
of that All-Star the Rangers acquired from the Yankees in
exchange for A-Rod, second baseman Alfonso Soriano.

This is an article from the April 5, 2004 issue

After an MVP-caliber 2003 season, Soriano looked more like an
overmatched September call-up than a Most Valuable Player in the
playoffs. He hit .225 and struck out 26 times in 71 postseason at
bats for the Yankees, flailing at pitches well out of the strike
zone. By the World Series, Soriano was so clueless at the plate
that he whiffed seven times in his final 15 at bats.

If the lousy postseason wasn't enough to break his spirit, being
traded in February from the best team in the East to the worst in
the West (Texas has finished in the division cellar four straight
seasons) could have finished the job. But the Rangers were
pleased to find that Soriano didn't arrive at camp brooding about
his change of address. "My goal is always to get to the World
Series," he says. "I still have the same goal in Texas that I had
in New York." Soriano refers to his playoff funk as "a bad two
weeks," and Texas manager Buck Showalter thinks it's healthy that
Soriano considers the slump an aberration. "He's been upbeat and
willing to work hard," Showalter says. "The rough patch he hit at
the end of last season would shake anybody's confidence a little,
but it's nothing that can't be repaired."

The repair work is where Jaramillo comes in. The Rangers regard
him as the best hitting instructor in the majors, and he has the
results and admirers to bear that out. Six recent MVPs--A-Rod,
Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez, Sammy Sosa, Ken Caminiti and Jeff
Bagwell--count Jaramillo among their hitting mentors.

Jaramillo believes Soriano could someday join his list of MVP
disciples. "It's going to take some time," he says. "He's got a
lot of ability, but he got into some bad habits last year, and
bad habits create just as much muscle memory as good ones." Tired
of Soriano's feasting on their fastballs, pitchers started
feeding him breaking balls away. He became so concerned with
getting to those pitches that he expanded his strike zone, and
the more he reached for those outside offerings the farther off
the plate the pitchers went. "I was jumping and lunging at the
ball," he says. "When I look at myself on tape I can see that,
but I just didn't make the adjustments at the time."

Soriano's weight distribution and balance were out of kilter when
he swung, so Jaramillo has been working with him to keep his
weight back longer, study the pitch for an extra split second and
trust his remarkably quick hands to react. "It's nothing major,"
Jaramillo says. "You don't jump into a guy and try to change his
whole approach. We're just trying to get him back to the things
that made him so successful in the past."

The Rangers need Soriano to bounce back not only to make the
Rodriguez trade look good, but also because they lost 109 homers
from last year's lineup with the departures of A-Rod, Gonzalez
and Rafael Palmeiro. They're hoping that newly acquired DH Brad
Fullmer and rightfielder Brian Jordan can help replace some of
that power, and Jaramillo thinks Soriano has the strength and bat
speed to improve on the 38 homers he hit last season.

While the Rangers could muster another potent offense this year,
their pitching and defense, the main reasons for the four
straight last-place finishes, don't appear to be any better.
Soriano averaged more than 20 errors the last three seasons, and
Michael Young will move from second to short to replace A-Rod,
which means both positions are weaker. On the mound Texas hopes
that young righthanders Colby Lewis and Ricardo Rodriguez
develop, and that 30-year-old Chan Ho Park, who has been injured
or ineffective for the last two years, finally begins to earn his
$13 million salary.

Another season in last-place looks likely for Texas, and Soriano
will discover that a lousy October is better than no October at
all. --P.T.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER SECOND CHANCE When he hasn't been working on his swing, the error-prone Soriano has tried to sharpen his defense.COLOR PHOTO: BRIAN BAHR/GETTY IMAGES LEWIS

IN FACT
Texas relievers set a big league record with 601 1/3 innings
pitched, beating the old mark of 599 1/3 by the '77 Mariners.

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Rangers

"There's not much good to say about their pitching. I saw Kenny
Rogers get beat up pretty bad in the spring, and he's their ace.
Chan Ho Park was throwing 87 or 88 and really laboring. Colby
Lewis has a good arm, but he's always been a two-pitch guy:
fastball and slider. The lack of command of his changeup has kept
him from becoming a good pitcher.... The bullpen could be a
strength, though. Jay Powell looked good, and with Carlos
Almanzar, Francisco Cordero, Jeff Nelson and possibly Joaquin
Benoit, they have some options.... Michael Young will do an
adequate job at shortstop; he played there in the minors.... The
guy I really like is Manny Alexander, who came in as a nonroster
guy and has done a great job at shortstop.... They'll try to get
Eric Young's bat in the lineup by putting him in leftfield. He
had trouble with the sky in Arizona, but he can still hit....
They'd like to unload catcher Einar Diaz and his $2.5 million
salary and go with Gerald Laird and Rod Barajas behind the
plate."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2003 statistics

BATTING ORDER

SS M. Young
3B Blalock
2B Soriano
DH Fullmer
1B Teixeira
RF Jordan
LF Mench
CF Nix
C Laird

LAYNCE NIX

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 185 .255 8 30 3

KEVIN MENCH

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 191 .320 2 11 1

BRIAN JORDAN [New acquisition]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 194 .299 6 28 1

MICHAEL YOUNG

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 121 .306 14 72 13

ALFONSO SORIANO [New acquisition]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 3 .290 38 91 35

HANK BLALOCK

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 36 .300 29 90 2

MARK TEIXEIRA

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 82 .259 26 84 1

GERALD LAIRD (R)*

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 263 .260 9 42 9

BENCH

ERIC YOUNG [New acquisition]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 254 .251 15 34 28

DAVID DELLUCCI [New acquisition]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 336 .227 3 23 12

DESIGNATED HITTER

BRAD FULLMER [New acquisition]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 172 .306 9 35 5

ROTATION

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

LH Kenny Rogers 142 13 8 6.2 1.42 4.57
[New acquisition]
RH Chan Ho Park 203 1 3 4.2 1.99 7.58
RH R.A. Dickey 160 9 8 5.7 1.48 5.09
RH Colby Lewis 266 10 9 4.9 1.83 7.30
RH Ricardo Rodriguez 182 3 9 5.4 1.08 5.73

BULLPEN

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Francisco Cordero 73 5 8 15 1.31 2.94
RH Jeff Nelson 177 4 2 8 1.36 3.74
[New acquisition]
RH Jay Powell 293 3 0 0 1.86 7.82

(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
*Triple A stats
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 142)

2003 RECORD
71-91
fourth in AL West

MANAGER
Buck Showalter
second season with Texas