2/22/2013 2:54 P.M. ET
Kinsler's spring features new faces, healthy ankle
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- There are three reasons why this could be termed as an unusual Spring Training for second baseman Ian Kinsler -- or at least a particularly interesting one.
He was able to identify two immediately.
"I'm missing a couple of teammates that were here awhile and I've got a new hitting coach," Kinsler said.
Then there is his right ankle. He sprained it during Spring Training in 2010 and it has been a problem ever since. Kinsler even considered surgery at the All-Star break last season, but held off. Instead of getting worse, the ankle seemed to get stronger as the season progressed, and he came to camp this spring feeling as good as ever.
"I think that could be No. 3," Kinsler said. "I'm definitely past that. I haven't had many attempted stolen bases in Spring Training lately because of that, but it's something I want to practice this spring and get a feel for it. I made an attempt off [Evan] Meek in the intrasquad game, and I felt great. I talk about cheating, there was zero of that. Cheating is over-anticipating. This was read and go."
He still stole 21 bases in 2012, although that was down from 30 in '11. His home runs also dropped from 32 to 19, but most noticeable were his walks and strikeouts. He went from 89 walks and 71 strikeouts in '11 to 60 walks and 90 strikeouts this past season. His defensive numbers also slipped. He committed 18 errors and had a range factor of 4.19 chances per nine inning, as opposed to seven errors and a 4.72 range factor in '11.
He said it was not the ankle.
"In 2011 my ankle hurt and I was a productive player," Kinsler said. "In 2010 it hurt and I was a productive player. I was a productive player last year; it just wasn't up to my standards. The ankle wasn't the reason.
"There was not one reason. There were a lot of things. I need to make some changes. Obviously I can be a better player, I can be a better teammate and produce what this team needs."
He referred to 2012 as a "testing" season even though he made his third career appearance in an All-Star Game.
"No doubt about it," Kinsler said. "Struggling is an easy way to say it. It was frustrating in a sense that I was in some place I don't want to be."
Kinsler still scored 105, which is most important to manager Ron Washington. That's why he is still the leadoff hitter.
"You play the game long enough, there will be seasons where things don't fall into place for you," Washington said. "That's what happened to him. It's a new year and he can start off fresh. He needs to focus and put his game together and I believe he will.
"I'm not so concerned about his offensive numbers because we won 93 games. It wasn't enough, but if I can come into a spring every year knowing we will win 93 games, I'll take it. If I know Kinsler will score 100 runs, I'll take it. He didn't score 120 runs, but that's not why we didn't accomplish what we wanted to accomplish. It's on all of us. Not one guy."
Kinsler enters his eighth season with the Rangers and his first without Michael Young around. They were almost inseparable as friends with their side-by-side lockers both in Surprise and the Ballpark in Arlington. Josh Hamilton is also gone, and Kinsler was one of the first to befriend him when he joined the Rangers in 2007.
"It's a little weird, a little different," Kinsler said. "It's not difficult, it's just weird not to have a teammate who has been here all seven years that I've been here. That's really it. You adjust to your new team."
Now Kinsler can be seen sitting around the clubhouse with Lance Berkman and A.J. Pierzynski, easily chatting and joking with two of the Rangers biggest off-season acquisitions.
"I absolutely love what Lance has to offer and what A.J has to offer," Kinsler said. "They are two guys who have played a lot of games and they have a tremendous amount of experience. They have experience in important games. Berkman is more outspoken than A.J., but when A.J. says something, it's important. It's nice to have both in here.
"The thing I love about this team is that everybody enjoys to work and they like to talk about it. They work at it. That's a little different than in the past. That was our M.O. here, but we usually had one or two guys who were on their own program. It seems like now everybody comes in here to work hard."
Kinsler said that includes hitting coach Dave Magadan, who is usually in the batting cages around 7:30 in the morning. The Rangers have had five different hitting coaches in the last five springs, with Magadan following Rudy Jaramillo, Clint Hurdle, Thad Bosley and Scott Coolbaugh.
"It's interesting," Kinsler said. "Everybody brings a different style and a different approach to hitting. The nice thing about Dave is that he played the game a long time so he understands that side and has a great understanding of a player's mindset. The big thing I want is honesty. I want someone that's not scared to say something. I'm open to criticism if it's positive. Dave's figured that out pretty quickly."
It's all a part of an unusually interesting spring for the Rangers second baseman. The Rangers hope it all leads to a particularly productive summer.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.