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08/05/09 9:30 PM ET
Washington trying to get message across
Rangers skipper wants players relaxed, playing smarter
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
OAKLAND -- Oakland pitcher Gio Gonzalez had trouble getting his curveball over the plate Tuesday night, but it didn't matter. For seven innings, Rangers hitters kept chasing it outside the strike zone. Designated hitter Andruw Jones kept telling his teammates on the bench to not worry about the curve because it wasn't going to be a strike. They never got the message. But it was on manager Ron Washington's mind and it was something that he wanted to address to his team before Wednesday's game against the Athletics. The Rangers had a pregame meeting to celebrate Eddie Guardado's 900th career appearance, but Washington is also trying to get a message through to his players. He wasn't willing to share verbatim, but it's clear that a 6-0 loss to the Athletics on Tuesday and a pitcher who had a 7.36 ERA going into the game was cause for some consternation. "It's the same message, it's not going to change," Washington said. "These guys know what they need to do. There has never been a lack of effort. Sometimes they try too hard but I'd rather have them try too hard than not at all. "Our personnel is our personnel. To this point, they've done pretty well. If we had last year's offense or the year before to go with what's going on this year with our pitching and defense, I'd take that. But we're going to go with what we have. These guys have shown a lot of resiliency. They'll figure out a way." That may be most important. Just play the game smart and make the necessary adjustments. It's one thing to chase a curveball early, but not for seven innings. "That's a definite," outfielder Marlon Byrd said. "You can play hard all day long, but it doesn't mean you're going to win. The team that plays smart usually wins. Playing smart means making adjustments. "Two nights in a row we were facing guys with good curves. You're second at-bat has to be better than your first at-bat, and your third at-bat has to be better than your second at-bat. You've got to make adjustments. If you don't, you can't expect to win." This is hardly a new topic of conversation for the Rangers. They know that their offense was tied for the most strikeouts in the American League going into Wednesday's game and had the third fewest walks. They also had the second lowest on-base percentage in the league while leading the league in home runs. "We have to find a better way of being disciplined in our approach," third baseman Michael Young said. "Sometimes we're good at it, and sometimes we get out of our element. But I have a lot of faith in the guys on this club. We talk about it all the time, and it's something we have to improve. We will. As the season goes along, I think it will be a strength." The Rangers are last in the AL in percentage of pitches taken and have the highest percentage as far as swinging at the first pitch. They swing at the first pitch 32.7 percent of the time. The Red Sox have the lowest at 21.2 percent, and the Angels are next at 21.5 percent. "The basic message is play within your ability," Washington said. "We talk about working the count, taking pitches and get the opposing pitcher's pitch count up. But when we step in the box and see a pitch we like ... "Last night we didn't put any runs on the board. There's no panic. We've got to get back to playing our game and I believe we will. These guys are the ones who got us here and will have to take it further. The Rangers could have used right-handed hitter Nelson Cruz on Tuesday night against Gonzalez, who is left-handed. But Cruz remains day-to-day with a sprained left ankle and was out of the lineup again on Wednesday. The Rangers did make a roster move, calling up utility player Esteban German and optioning infielder Joaquin Arias back to Triple-A Oklahoma City. German was hitting .322 with a .421 on-base percentage and 33 stolen bases in 101 games at Oklahoma City.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.