Notes: Bigger in hopes of being better
Kinsler bulks up for '07; Loe to start Friday's exhibition opener
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Second baseman Ian Kinsler has come into Rangers camp bigger and stronger.Kinsler, after finishing last season at 187, has come to Arizona weighing 208 pounds and is hoping that will increase his endurance. Kinsler hit .320 before the All-Star break last season and .267 afterward in his first season in the Majors and his slugging percentage went from .553 to .399. "I mainly focused on my legs," Kinsler said. "In the past I haven't done much with my legs, but I think that will help my speed and help me stay strong. I've noticed a difference taking ground balls. I'm not getting tired at the end. Offensively, my timing is a little off so I haven't seen a difference, but I definitely feel more balance." Kinsler said he understands there's a fine line between getting stronger to be more durable and losing the agility needed to play the middle infield. He and Jose Vazquez, the Rangers strength and conditioning coach, kept that in mind during their offseason workouts. "We concentrated on gaining weight and keeping our mobility and agility so we did a lot of different exercises for mobility," Kinsler said. Strength and speed are both a part of Kinsler's game. He hit 14 home runs with a .454 slugging percentage that was the seventh best by an American League rookie with at least 400 at-bats in a season since 2000. He also led the Rangers with 11 stolen bases. He stole 19 at Triple-A Oklahoma in 2005. "I eventually see myself as a No. 2 hitter," said Kinsler, who batted ninth for much of last season. "I can steal a base or two, even though I don't have blazing speed, and I can control the bat a little bit. I'm not going to hit the ball out of the park a lot, but I feel I can do a lot of different things and you need a guy like that in the No. 2 hole." Right now Kenny Lofton and Frank Catalanotto will bat at the top of the order against right-handers. But Kinsler will likely be among the candidates when a left-hander is on the mound. "That's the way I like it," Kinsler said. "I can help this team in different spots." Loe gets first start: Kameron Loe will be first out of the gate in the competition for the fifth starter spot. He will start Friday's exhibition opener against the Kansas City Royals. John Koronka and Edinson Volquez, two other fifth-starter candidates, are also pitching in that game, along with relievers Willie Eyre, Joaquin Benoit and Wes Littleton. Kevin Millwood, who threw in the bullpen on Monday, will start the B game in the morning on the back fields.
The Rangers thought Millwood might skip Friday's start because of a sore calf muscle, but pitching coach Mark Connor said, "He's all fired up and throwing good."All but three pitchers in camp have been scheduled to throw in one of the first four exhibition games or the B game on Friday: Reliever Eric Gagne (elbow surgery) threw in the bullpen on Wednesday and is throwing off a mound every third day. He is still concentrating on building up arm strength and arm speed and Connor said he's not sure when he'll throw in a game. Jose Vargas finally arrived in camp and threw a quick bullpen session for Connor. Left-hander John Rheinecker remains sidelined with back spasms. The Rangers were hoping that he would be back on the mound by now but that hasn't happened. Said Connor, "He's as frustrated as everybody else right now. It's tough because he's worked so hard this winter. No doubts about Sosa: Manager Ron Washington said he has "no doubts" that Sammy Sosa will be on the Opening Day roster, even though he is in camp on a Minor League contract. "I'm not saying [everybody] else has no doubts, but Ron Washington has no doubts," Washington said. "If he doesn't perform, doubt will set in but right now I have no doubts." Why no doubts? "I trust my instincts," Washington said. "I trust my baseball instincts. If he gets the proper work and with the knowledge he brings, he will perform." He said it: "The biggest thing I've seen with our pitchers is their confidence level is much better. They feel like they belong here now."
-- catcher Gerald Laird Contract talks: The Rangers signed six more players to one-year contracts: outfielder Nelson Cruz ($382,000), Victor Diaz ($382,151), Laird ($400,322), Littleton ($382,000), Loe ($390,765) and Brandon McCarthy ($396,068). The Rangers have four players still without contracts for 2007: Kinsler, outfielder Jason Botts and pitchers Koronka and C.J. Wilson. The Rangers expect all four to come to terms before the first exhibition game on Friday. The Rangers will likely get a one-year deal done with Kinsler and possibly revisit a multiyear deal with his agents. The Rangers remain in on-going discussions with agent Dan Lozano over a five-year contract extension for shortstop Michael Young. All indications are there are still some issues to be worked out before the deal is completed. Briefly: Washington is starting to get concerned about the large number of autograph seekers who have been drawn to camp by Sosa. Said Washington, "I've seen them all over Michael Young, all over [Mark Teixeira] and all over Kenny Lofton. I understand why the fans are out here, but they have to understand we have work to do, too." ... Cruz has been impressive in batting practice and Washington said, "He's not missing much when they put it in the wrong spot." ... Country/western singing legend Charley Pride arrived for his annual visit to Rangers camp and joined the workouts on Monday.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.