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09/13/08 4:46 PM ET
Blalock finding right way to tag lefties
Slugger in midst of homer streak; trying to end season strong
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
OAKLAND -- The Rangers are facing a six-game run of left-handed starting pitchers, and it seems to have done wonders for Hank Blalock. He's found his power stroke again. Blalock entered Saturday having hit a home run in three straight games, matching the longest streak of his career. All three home runs have come off left-handers, and manager Ron Washington said that's not surprising. Blalock has a tendency to try to pull a pitch too hard, Washington said. That causes him to pull off a pitch rather staying on it all the way into the zone. Washington also said facing left-handed pitchers makes Blalock concentrate more on staying in the zone. "We never doubted Hank was a good hitter, but at least against these left-handers, he's thinking hitting up the middle," Washington said. "I always said he handles left-handers well, but now that we're facing six in a row, he's heating up." It's too late to salvage a difficult season, but if Blalock can finish strong, it just might reinforce the Rangers' impetus to pick up his $6.2 million option for next season and bring him back as their first baseman. That's probably the first big decision Texas faces as it goes into the offseason, and Blalock knows it. "I think about it," Blalock said. "The team has an option, of course I think about it. But I can't look at it and let it bother me. If they go in a direction that includes me, that's great. I love it here. If they go in another direction, then I'll find another place to play." Blalock entered Saturday's game hitting .265 with seven home runs and 23 RBIs in 204 at-bats. Over the past two years, he has been limited to just 412 at-bats over 109 games, and he is hitting .279 with 17 home runs and 56 RBIs over that period. Those aren't quite the numbers he put up in 2003-'04, when he was an All-Star third baseman. But a one-year, $6.2 million option is not an exorbitant salary for a player who is coming off injuries but has a track record of success. The Rangers signed Milton Bradley to a one-year, $5.25 million contract in the offseason, even though he was coming off major knee surgery. Picking up Blalock's option would also allow the Rangers to leave Chris Davis at third base, and it will give them a first baseman for at least one more season while Justin Smoak -- their top pick from the 2008 First-Year Player Draft -- continues his development in the Minor Leagues. "I never make projections for myself," Blalock said. "The last two seasons have shown that you never know what will happen in a season. But I feel like as far as next year, I'm still young and I'm a smarter player than I have been in the past. I feel I'm still I'm able to do the things that I've always been capable of doing. "It's a matter of staying on the field and playing." That's been the problem. Blalock had shoulder surgery in 2007 that sidelined him for over three months, and he's missed almost two-thirds of this season because of -- in order of appearance -- a torn left hamstring, right wrist surgery and inflammation in his shoulder. He also started the season as a third baseman and will finish it as a first baseman, although the position-switch plan was changed three different times. "This year has been tough," Blalock said. "So many different things have happened. But I look at it as a positive for the rest of my career. I've learned to play first base, and I feel good defensively. I've dealt with three different injuries, and I'm learning ways to keep me on the field for 160 games. I'm not looking at this year as a negative. It will make me a better player."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.