05/29/10 12:56 AM ET
Rangers' divison lead slims in tight defeat
Smoak's struggles highlight frustrating night against Twins
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
There was not a storybook ending to this one, with Nelson Cruz limping off the bench with a torn hamstring and hitting a game-winning grand slam. Cruz did pinch-hit with the bases loaded, but he grounded out to end the seventh.
No, the Rangers' 2-1 loss to the Minnesota Twins ended with first baseman Justin Smoak swinging and missing at strike three in the top of the ninth and making another long, slow walk to the bench.
He has had to make that walk a lot lately, and the Rangers' inability to get much from their first basemen continues to weigh down their offense. Smoak had several chances to come up big for the Rangers on Friday and couldn't get the job done.
Instead, Kevin Slowey emerged victorious in a tight pitching duel with Colby Lewis, who allowed two runs in six innings, and Texas' lead is down to a half-game over the Oakland Athletics in the American League West.
"Tonight, it really was a well-pitched game," said Rangers manager Ron Washington. "All we needed was a base hit, and we didn't get it."
The Rangers had seven hits on the night, but none from Smoak. He was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and 0-for-2 with runners in scoring position.
Simply put, he is struggling.
"It's tough, you know?" Smoak said. "I've been through this before. I've just got to get out of it. It's one of those things that happens."
Smoak, a switch-hitting rookie who was called to the big leagues on April 23, now has three singles in his past 32 at-bats. His last extra-base hit was a home run way back on May 12.
"He definitely has to do better -- no doubt about it," Washington said. "Right now, they are busting him in with fastballs and giving him the slow stuff. He has to make adjustments."
In Oklahoma City, Chris Davis is hitting .304 with two home runs and 22 RBIs in 28 games. He was hitting .188 with no home runs and one RBI in 15 games with Texas when he was sent down. Rangers first basemen are hitting a combined .160 on the season -- lowest in the league -- with a .278 on-base percentage. In 48 games, they have driven in 13 runs.
The Rangers are trying to be patient with Smoak, just as they were with Davis last year. With right-hander Carl Pavano starting for the Twins on Saturday, Smoak will be back in the lineup.
"We'll put him out there and see if he can redeem himself," Washington said.
"You have to stay confident and keep your head up," said third baseman Michael Young. "This is the big leagues. It's going to happen. Young players come up and have to make adjustments. That's what the big leagues are all about. The guys who are mentally tough are the ones who succeed.
"We have a lot of faith in Justin. He's working hard and doing all he can to go up there and have good at-bats. He'll be fine."
Smoak came to bat with a runner on second and two outs in the second inning, and popped out to third. He struck out leading off the fifth, but his biggest at-bat came in the seventh.
Vladimir Guerrero and Josh Hamilton led off with singles before David Murphy flied out. That brought up Smoak, and Slowey struck him out looking at a fastball inside. Jon Rauch got him again in the ninth with a runner on first and two outs, marking the first time Smoak has struck out three times in a game this season. He has 22 strikeouts in 108 at-bats.
"I just have to slow the game down a lot more," Smoak said. "When I first got here, I was feeling good. I was hitting the ball hard. I didn't have the best luck. Now I'm trying too hard to make it happen, rather than letting it happen."
He said his confidence is still there.
"You've got to be confident to play the game at this level," Smoak said. "You're here for a reason, because they believe in you. You're a good enough player to be here. The confidence is there, I've just got to turn this thing around."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.