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03/26/09 6:22 PM ET

Rangers building Andrus' confidence

Opening Day shortstop learning ropes from veterans around him

PHOENIX -- The Rangers like Elvis Andrus' confidence and maturity. They like his makeup and the way he carries himself on the field.

That's part of why the Rangers felt he was ready to make the jump from Double-A Frisco to the Major Leagues. That's part of why the Rangers felt Andrus, 20, was ready to replace Michael Young as their starting shortstop.

But it hasn't been that easy and it hasn't been that smooth. There were rough stretches early in spring when Andrus was getting down on himself and his trademark confidence was starting to ebb.

That he has been able to get through that is a testament not only to Andrus but his teammates around him.

"Early on he was beating himself up and maybe losing some confidence," hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo said. "He told me that when he started losing his swing, he was losing his confidence. But he's starting to come back. I've only seen him drop his head once in the past week or so.

"It's the guys around him that have really helped him, guys like Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, Marlon Byrd, guys like that. They've really rallied around him and kept him going. They don't let him get down on himself."

Having Omar Vizquel in the next locker hasn't hurt either.

"He's helped me all spring," Andrus said. "He's been a big help. He's been in the game a long time and is one of the best in the history of baseball. I watch how hard he works and how he maintains his focus. That's what he's been telling me."

There have been good moments and bad. Andrus' path to Opening Day has been arduous at times as he tries to uphold the Rangers' faith in him. Andrus started off hitting .214 in his first eight games. At one point, his batting average went back up to .294. But he entered Thursday's game with the Brewers with just four hits in his last 21 at-bats.

He had two RBIs in 22 games while going 2-for-12 with runners scoring position. But he has three singles through the right side on hit-and-run plays and he is three-for-three in stolen bases, most on the team.

On Thursday against the Brewers, he struck out swinging in his first at-bat. Then he came back and drove in a run with a sacrifice fly in his second appearance. He also led off the sixth with a single in a 7-7 game and later came around to score the go-ahead run. That left him 1-for-2 with an RBI. He is now hitting .263 for the spring.

"The first few games, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself," Andrus said. "I needed to relax and just play the game. That's been the biggest thing since the start of Spring Training, trying to relax. For a while I was nervous."

Byrd, who is also just a few lockers down from Andrus, said that was to be expected.

"He should have been nervous," Byrd said. "Coming in and taking over at shortstop, what was being said, and especially the way it played out in the offseason. But we're past that, it's time to move on. He's playing shortstop for us. It's time to help us win the division and go to the playoffs.

"It's Spring Training. Ups and downs here don't mean anything. The thing is having him get comfortable so when he steps on the line on Opening Day, he feels: 'I belong here. I'm a part of the team.'"

Byrd had no such problems in Spring Training with the Phillies in 2003. But when the regular season started, he was a wreck. Supposedly a hot-shot rookie center fielder, he was hitting .193 at the end of May and just waiting to be sent to the Minor Leagues.

"I had some guys around me that really helped me," Byrd said. "Bobby Abreu, Jim Thome and Rickey Ledee were all guys who were there for me. Rickey Ledee was killing the ball and everybody thought he should play center. He said to me, 'No, you're the center fielder, now let's go to work.' We're doing the same thing with Elvis, only we're doing it early so we make sure he's ready."

That was the big question this offseason when the Rangers decided to give Andrus the opportunity to jump from Double-A to the Major Leagues. Some did wonder if the Rangers were making that move one year too early.

"It's a big time for me," Andrus said. "Right now I just need to keep playing. The game lets you get better if you make the right adjustments. You have to play and play and play. That's what I need right now."

The Rangers take the uncomplicated and less-demanding road with Andrus. He won't be a big run-producer at the bottom of the order but he can bunt, hit-and-run and steal bases. Defensively he has a reputation for great range, but the Rangers stress making the routine play and turning the double play. Young excelled at both.

"Execute the fundamentals, that's all I want him to do," manager Ron Washington said. "Nothing hard. I'm not expecting him to hit bombs or drive in runs. Just play baseball. He can do that. He's a baseball player. He can hit-and-run, bunt, move runners over and steal bases. He can do those things and catch a baseball. He's a baseball player."

Soon he will officially be a Major League player when he steps on the field against the Indians on April 6 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. That's when it's for real. Like Byrd said, Spring Training -- for good or ill -- doesn't really mean anything.

April is when Andrus will have to show that he is ready for the big leagues.

"I'm excited, but I've been excited since Jon Daniels called me in my country and told me I'd get a chance," Andrus said of the general manager. "Every day it gets closer, it gets exciting. I know the night before the first game I'll be nervous, but I just need to concentrate and enjoy the game. I know it happens, you get your big league debut and try to do too much.

"But just because I'm in the big leagues doesn't mean I'm going to change my swing or change my game. I just need to be myself and be relaxed."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.