Rangers stick to script in Game 2
Long-used two-strike approach pays off vs. Hughes
ARLINGTON -- Rangers hitting coach Clint Hurdle began drilling the lessons into his players heads during the relaxed days of Spring Training in Arizona"Use the whole field," he would tell them. "Don't lose confidence with two strikes." Those philosophies paid big dividends in the bright lights of October as the Rangers roughed up the Yankees' Phil Hughes for 10 hits in his four-plus innings en route to a 7-2 win in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday. Of the 10 hits, only three of them were pulled. The rest either went the opposite way or to center. "We were able to get good reads early," Hurdle said. "We spent so much time from Spring Training until now focusing on hitting the ball the other way, hit the ball hard the other way, live in the big part of the field. The guys have been very good about it, very diligent in their work, and it has reaped us some rewards."
In addition to reminding them about it every series, Hurdle would sometimes have them take "no peek" batting practice where all they did was keep their head on the point of contact while hitting the ball the other way."Just not try to get result oriented and get caught up in the high flies," Hurdle said. Five of the 10 hits came with two strikes, another stat that brought a smile to Hurdle's face. "What we do best is stay aggressive in the strike zone with the fastball and try to spit on spin [lay off breaking balls] until we get deeper in the count with two strikes," Hurdle said. "If there's a ball that we think we can bang that's soft, we'll go ahead and take a whack at it. "You don't want to hit in two-strike counts all the time, because the league average is .188. But when you get there, know that you still have a pitch to deal with and the guy on the mound is still human. Don't fall into the bad trap where you think you're on the defensive. Stay proactive, you don't have to be reactive. When it's out of his hand, he can't do anything more with it, so you can get something done." Being aggressive with early fastballs and hitting late-count breaking balls was a strategy that the Rangers followed to the letter, much to the frustration of Hughes, who struggled to find the feel for his secondary pitches. "They were definitely aggressive," Hughes said. "They were jumping on first-pitch fastballs. They didn't really allow me to get ahead in the counts too many times. You have to give them credit sometimes. It just seemed like all my fastballs over the plate were finding their barrels." Second baseman Ian Kinsler was 1-for-2 against Hughes with an RBI triple in the fifth, which came on an 0-2 pitch that was driven the opposite way. "He was throwing a lot of fastballs away, and we're going to take whatever they're going to give us," Kinsler said. "But other than that, we're just trying to see pitches in the middle of the plate and get our hacks in." Third baseman Michael Young said that the Rangers' approach does not change from pitcher to pitcher. "We try to keep it as simple as possible," he said. "We want to make sure we're aggressive in the strike zone. We don't want to chase; we never want to get outside the zone. If people throw pitches we think we can handle, we want to make an aggressive pass at it. We try to keep it as simple as possible. [The opposite-field hits] just happened to go that way, to be honest with you."
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.