ARLINGTON, Texas -- One constant in the first 20 games of the season for the Rangers: change and more change.
This is a club that hasn't hesitated to alter its lineup and its roster less than a month into the season.
Some of it was driven by injuries, like the disabled list stints of catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and now outfielder Nelson Cruz. But lack of production has also caused the front office to make some moves.
That's what happens to clubs with high expectations that get off to slower than desired starts. General manager Jon Daniels is showing that he isn't afraid to shake things up, even early in the season, if he thinks it will help his team. And despite a 9-11 start that has the Rangers in last place in the AL West, they were only 2½ games behind division-leading Oakland as of Wednesday.
"We don't want to make moves unless they are necessary," Daniels said. "Stability is second only to ability. But at some point, when we as a staff decide we need to make a change, we're going to make it. You don't want to wait too long and then look back at the end of the season and wish you'd done more to help the team win."
With one-eighth of the season gone, the Rangers have changed the leadoff hitter, first baseman, closer and catcher. That's four major pieces of the club. They have some arms throwing well in the minors, including Derek Holland, making a rotation change possible if some hurlers, like Rich Harden and Matt Harrison for instance, don't show improvement.
Teagarden, the 26-year-old Longhorn, just couldn't get it going this season. He had one hit in 27 at-bats and took plenty of swings and misses with 17 strikeouts. At times, it seemed like his struggles at the plate seeped into his defensive play. The Rangers hope he can work on his swing and get things figured out in the minors. In the meantime, Jarrod Saltalamacchia isn't quite ready and will get some more games at Oklahoma City. The club will monitor his shoulder and how he looks throwing the ball to bases and the mound. He won't get a call-up unless he's completely healthy. That means Max Ramirez gets an opportunity to see what he's got behind the plate. And he gives the club another right-handed bat with Cruz on the DL. Ramirez has hit .289 so far this season.
For Treanor, it's a quick ascent through the catching depth chart. He began the season in Triple-A and 20 games in is now the main man behind the plate. He sure looked like it Tuesday, hitting a homer to left field to give the Rangers the lead in the second and then a two-run double to left with two outs in the fourth.
Treanor's job is to get some key hits and handle the pitching staff, just like he did Tuesday. Manager Ron Washington's job is to put the best team he possibly can on the field. And Daniels has the responsibility to make sure Washington has the proper players to choose from as he fills out that lineup card.
That's the reason Washington didn't hesitate to change closers right after the first week of the season. Two blown saves by Frank Francisco, who Washington felt didn't look like "the usual Frankie," put Neftali Feliz in the closer spot. Feliz hasn't shown an ability to pitch successfully on consecutive days yet. That, combined with Francisco's starting to pitch better (he got the save on Tuesday), could alter the back end of the bullpen again at some point in the future. We'll have to wait and see.
Julio Borbon struggled to start the season at the leadoff spot and the club decided a few weeks in that a change was needed to help generate a spark at the top of the order. So Elvis Andrus and Borbon flipped spots. Andrus isn't putting up huge numbers in terms of batting average, but he leads the team in walks and is tied for the team lead with five stolen bases. Borbon, since moving to the bottom of the order, is hitting .320 (8-for-25), with three stolen bases. He was 3-for-36 as the leadoff hitter, with one steal.
Chris Davis appeared ready to get things going from the start of 2010. He had a good finish to the 2009 season, worked hard in the offseason and pounded the ball in spring training. Daniels and Washington had high expectations for him. But Davis never found his comfort zone once the games counted this season. A contending club must have solid production from the first base position and Davis hit just .188 and had one RBI, the lowest total by any first baseman in the American League. Davis was 1-for-12 with eight strikeouts against left-handed pitchers. The Rangers hope Justin Smoak can light a fire at first base. He was hitting the ball well and consistently in the minors to start this season, and the Rangers felt it was time to see what he could do.
So it's certainly a different lineup and batting order than what the Rangers had to begin the 2010 campaign. It wasn't the roster they figured they'd have before the calendar flipped to May, either. And it will change some more later this week, when second baseman Ian Kinsler (high right ankle sprain) is expected to return from the disabled list.
Daniels hopes all the changes help his team find its stride.
"We've had some good moments and performances and some lackluster moments and performances," Daniels said when asked to assess the first 20 games. "We've yet to play our best baseball. If we can get healthy and stay that way and get our catching and bullpen settled, we're going to be a good club. Our players believe that too."