SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) — One day, Elvis Andrus short-hopped a routine throw. The next, the Texas Rangers shortstop made an incredible play deep in the hole, getting a runner at first despite throwing with his feet off the ground while falling away from the base.
Since manager Ron Washington has been emphasizing to Andrus this spring to be focused, what he really liked was the young shortstop’s reaction to the botched play in the first of those consecutive spring training games this week.
“He wasn’t in a very good state when he came in. I can recognize when you’re (mad) at yourself at something you did. … He was truly upset,” Washington said. “That’s a sign that now we have clicked a little bit. Now the focus may come up a little bit more.”
Last spring, the Rangers made room for Andrus — who had never played above the Double-A level — by switching five-time All-Star Michael Young to third base. The move paid off as the 21-year-old Andrus was runner-up to Oakland closer Andrew Bailey for the American League Rookie of the Year award.
“The more I play, the more that I start discovering myself,” Andrus said. “Right now, I’m working on a little bit more, emphasize everything, like routine plays. That’s what I really wanted to improve this year and show that I can do that.”
Andrus, the youngest position player in the majors last season, hit .267 with 33 stolen bases in 145 games while leading all AL rookies in hits, runs, total bases, triples and stolen bases. He led major league shortstops with 5.02 fielding chances per nine innings and 261 putouts, though his 22 errors included too many like the throwing gaffe this week.
“He made only eight (errors) with his glove, so the rest of them were something else, throwing and dropping (three) pop flies. … There were 14 of them that he could have prevented,” Washington said. “The good ones, they don’t take anything for granted. And he’s good, so we’ve got to help him not take it for granted.”
Washington quickly realized that that he didn’t even have to say anything when Andrus got back in the dugout after his throwing error. The manager’s earlier conversations this spring are already having an impact.
“That’s really a sign of all the things that we saw to make that decision last year,” general manager Jon Daniels said Thursday. “Some guys would be embarrassed because other guys got on him. He was embarrassed for himself and he got on himself. There’s that subtle difference. The great ones, they’re self-motivated and we saw some of that in Elvis.”
When the Rangers decided to promote Andrus, that required moving Young — clearly one of the team’s most popular players — right after he had won his first Gold Glove. Things worked out because Andrus, acquired by the Rangers from Atlanta in the summer of 2007 when they traded Mark Teixeira, had a solid rookie season.
“You don’t expect that much out of a 20-year-old,” second baseman Ian Kinsler said. “For him to be able to come to the big leagues and do what he did last year is pretty special. … I think I was in short season when I was 21, or something like that. He’s a great talent, he’s a good listener and he’s able to make adjustments pretty quickly.”
Andrus’ batting average was the best by a Rangers rookie since Mike Lamb in 2000, and he hit .286 over the final 67 games. He scored 48 runs batting out of the No. 9 spot and had only one error the final 20 games after four in a six-game span before that.
“It was a big step last year. I really started to understand how you need to play this game and how to do the little things,” Andrus said. “I felt real comfortable in the second part of the season. I feel everything just slowed down, it wasn’t that much of a rush. That’s when I started to enjoy it a little bit more and go in there and enjoy the game.”