Choo happy to be in good place with Rangers

Veteran outfielder focused on getting better, being leader in clubhouse

Choo happy to be in good place with Rangers

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Rangers outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, normally the No. 2 hitter, batted leadoff against the Padres on Tuesday.

"It's OK," said Choo, who went 2-for-4 with a run scored in a 17-5 loss to the Padres. "I'll hit eighth, ninth. I'm the same guy."

The two-hole was Choo's best spot last season. But he has hit in every spot in the order in his career, including cleanup.

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"I batted cleanup one year in Cleveland and I think I did pretty good," Choo said.

He did. In 2009, Choo hit .313 with a .403 on-base percentage and a .514 slugging percentage in 85 games as the cleanup hitter.

"It's just more important to play every day," Choo said.

Choo doesn't have to worry about that. He is the starting right fielder and he'll be in there every day, especially if he carries over what he did in the second half of last season.

The Rangers think that's possible because Choo, in his third season in Texas, has emerged as a relaxed, confident leader who brings fun and energy to the clubhouse every day.

"He and I were workout partners this winter and he was great," pitcher Derek Holland said. "You can see how much fun he is and how comfortable he is being around here. He really has become a team leader."

Choo feels it as well.

"I feel more comfortable with everything, the ballclub, my teammates, the workers at the stadium ... very comfortable. Last year, I was comfortable, but it's now two years of experience here. My contract, I don't worry about it. I'm trying to get better."

Oh yes, about that contract. Choo signed a seven-year, $130 million deal before the 2014 season and it was clear he tried to put too much pressure on himself trying to feel worthy.

"Possibly ... everybody who gets a contract, they want to pay it back," Choo said. "My parents taught me, when people help you, you want to pay them back. The Rangers owners, the general manager Jon Daniels, [former manager Ron Washington], they trusted me to bring me here and I tried to put everything on my shoulders. Now, I know how hard that is."

The first season was rough because of a sprained left ankle and bone chips in Choo's left elbow bothered him the entire campaign. He had both cleaned up that offseason, but health didn't translate into a great start in '15. At the All-Star break, he was hitting .221 with a .305 on-base percentage and a .384 slugging percentage.

Two things happened. Heart-to-heart chats with his wife, Won-Mi Ha, convinced him to quit fretting about living up to the contract and his manager stuck with him in the lineup. That Jeff Banister did that meant everything to Choo.

"Trust, it's easy to say," Choo said. "But he was a first-year manager and wants to do better, and I'm not doing well. It's not easy to trust the player. But he did. That's why I was able to contribute. If I didn't get that opportunity, I wouldn't have."

Choo was tremendous in the second half, hitting .343 with a .455 on-base percentage and a .560 slugging percentage. His 1.016 OPS was the sixth highest in the American League after the All-Star break.

"There was never any give-in," Banister said. "He continued to grind it out and maintain that. I'm not going to say he was struggling because there were times he hit the ball hard and didn't have a whole lot to show for it. But he stayed focus. His persistence was impressive."

The sigh of relief comes from the front office. Daniels admitted to being a "little bit" concerned over Choo's performance.

"Probably more so than when there was an injury," Daniels said. "Injuries happen and it set him back with the ankle in 2014. Last year was so unusual, but I give him a ton of credit. Mentally the way he pulled himself out of it was very impressive.

"He has had a great camp. He is in a great state of mind and having great at-bats. He looks to be very comfortable. He has quietly taken on a leadership role. He is the first guy here every day. His routine is so regimented, his work ethic and example for young players is outstanding."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.