Notes: Blalock swinging big

Notes: Blalock swinging big

NEW YORK -- Rangers third baseman Hank Blalock's offensive numbers dropped last year and he was almost traded to the Marlins in the offseason.

Both could have been interpreted as ominous developments for the future, depending on how Blalock responded. If that's the case, the Rangers' unspoken anxiety ought to be laid to rest.

Through April and the first half of May, as the 2006 season reaches the quarter post, the feeling around the Rangers is Blalock may be playing the best baseball of his career.

"You can tell he's on a mission, very quietly the way Hank is," Rangers manager Buck Showalter said before Wednesday's game with the Yankees.

Blalock went 0-for-4 on Wednesday night, snapping an 11-game hitting streak. He is now batting .336 with eight home runs and 33 RBIs. The average and RBI total are the highest for any American League third baseman.

That Blalock is off to a hot start is not that surprising considering he usually hits better in the first half than the second half. But there are some other career trends that so far have been reversed.

Blalock went into Wednesday's game hitting .289 against left-handed hitters and .308 on the road. Blalock hit .231 on the road last year and .196 vs. left-handers.

"I feel like I'm playing the normal way I'm capable of playing," Blalock said.

Perhaps, but Tuesday's game demonstrated why Blalock may be headed for his best year. He went 3-for-4 with a double and home run, and all three hits were sent in a different direction, showing how Blalock has been better at using all fields.

He had a two-out, two-run single to center in the first, a two-run home run to right in the second and, after the Yankees brought in left-hander Ron Villone to face him, a double down the left-field line in the sixth.

That hit left Blalock hitting .362 with runners in scoring position, including .435 when there are two outs.

"I just go up there and hit the ball hard," Blalock said. "If the pitch is on the outside corner, I hit it to left. If it's on the inside part of the plate, I try to pull the ball. I'm a simple hitter, I don't try to analyze anything."

Maybe. But Blalock has a reputation for being a notorious pull hitter and opposing managers have been known to use a drastic shift against him.

Also, Blalock went into Wednesday's game on pace for 76 strikeouts and 68 walks. He struck out 132 times in 2005 and 149 times in 2004.

"He's starting to figure out they're trying to get him out outside the strike zone," Showalter said. "He's got a reputation, now he's taking what they're giving him a little bit. He seems more conscious."

The final test for Blalock is to keep it up in the second half. His career batting average before the All-Star break is now .300, whereas he's hitting just and the second half is .248 in the second half.

But he is meeting and exceeding all other gauges on which past offensive performances have been measured negatively.

"Hank wants to be there for his team the whole year," Showalter said. "Hank loves the game and he loves to play. He loves to play for the Texas Rangers, he loves to play in the rain and he loves to play in the cold. He's playing well."

Alfonseca on hold: The possibility of Antonio Alfonseca going on the disabled list increased on Wednesday night.

For the second straight game, Alfonseca was unable to pitch because of tightness in his right elbow.

"He was unavailable tonight, but said it was a little bit better," Showalter said. "We'll see where he is tomorrow."

The Rangers have to make a roster move on Friday in Houston when they call up pitcher Robinson Tejeda from the Minor Leagues, and dropping a reliever is the most likely scenario. Showalter does not want to drop a position player when they are about to play three games under National League rules.

If the Rangers don't put Alfonseca on the disabled list, they would have to either option Scott Feldman or risk putting Ron Mahay or Rick Bauer through waivers. The Rangers could backdate it because Alfonseca hasn't pitched since May 9.

Alfonseca warmed up on Tuesday night to pitch the seventh inning and had to shut down because of tightness in his elbow. The Rangers are hoping that it's related to not pitching for a week because of the rain. Alfonseca had elbow trouble in 2005.

"Sometimes inactivity works that way," Showalter said. "It's not in the same place. It's in a place that's usually not a long-term thing."

"I'm going to be all right," Alfonseca said.

Getting ready for Interleague: Rangers pitchers are getting ready for Interleague games in Houston by taking batting practice, and Kevin Millwood, a career .124 hitter, was walking around the clubhouse with bat in hand before Wednesday's game.

"I used to be able to use this but I'm not sure any more," Millwood said.

Millwood does have two home runs, one in 1999 off San Diego's Buddy Carlyle and one in 2002 off Colorado's Denny Stark. Of course, that was at Coors Field, a known hitters' haven.

"Doesn't matter," Millwood said. "It was still a bomb."

On Saturday, Millwood will be facing Houston's Roy Oswalt.

"It's not going to be a whole lot of fun standing in there against him," Millwood said.

Briefly: The Rangers have released designated hitter Erubiel Durazo at Triple-A Oklahoma. ... Outfielder Jason Botts has been sidelined at Oklahoma with a minor hamstring injury. ... Tuesday night was the second time in club history the Rangers have scored 13 runs and lost. The Yankees beat them 15-13 on May 6, 1998, in Arlington. ... The Rangers are now 23-10 in club history in games in which both teams scored at least 10 runs.

Coming up: Right-hander Vicente Padilla, who has been bothered by a strained right ankle, pitches against the Yankees at 12:05 p.m. CT on Thursday at Yankee Stadium. Padilla was supposed to pitch on Monday, but has been pushed back three days to give the ankle extra time to mend. Jaret Wright pitches for the Yankees.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.