Cleanup needed in Rangers' No. 4 spot

Cleanup needed in Rangers' No. 4 spot

HOUSTON -- A black hole has been found in the Rangers lineup: the No. 4 spot in the batting order.

Rangers No. 4 hitters went into Thursday's game with the Astros hitting a collective .147 with a .212 on-base percentage. Both were the lowest in the American League. Their .284 slugging percentage was the second lowest.

"The four hole has been a challenging spot for us," manager Jeff Banister admitted.

Elvis Andrus was used in the fourth spot for the second time this season, after having never done it before in his career. He responded with a 2-for-5 day, scoring two runs and driving an opposite-field solo homer in the 9th, helping the Rangers to a 10-4 win in the finale.

The biggest challenge has been the absence of Adrian Beltre, who is on the disabled list with a strained right calf muscle and not expected to return for at least a few more weeks. Last year he hit .319 with a .555 slugging percentage in the cleanup spot. Both were the third highest in the league.

"Anytime you miss one of your premier hitters it presents a challenge," Banister said. "Without Beltre, you don't replace him, what you do is fill in with other guys in the lineup. They need to stay stubborn when they are in the batter's box. They have to solidify who they are as hitters and be consistent with their approach."

The other challenge is getting Mike Napoli going. He has been the Rangers cleanup hitter for 21 of 29 games, but went into Thursday's game hitting .158 with a .307 slugging percentage and has been dropped to the No. 7 spot in the lineup. Napoli has been through slumps before, but this one has gone longer than expected.

"Yeah, probably," Napoli said. "I'm still confident. I've been through this before. I don't want to have it go this long but every day is a new day and I come here to work on me getting that feel. Sometimes I feel like I'm moving towards that and then it just seems to go back where I was."

The Rangers tried Joey Gallo in the cleanup spot against right-hander Charlie Morton on Wednesday. Gallo struck out three times and Pete Kozma pinch-hit for him late in the game. He hit sixth on Thursday.

"Tough pitcher for everybody," Banister said. "Charlie Morton has been a premier pitcher in this league and has been for a few years. He has been a challenge for a few guys. Joey not in the four hole had nothing to do with last night."

Rangers beat

Anthony Bass was optioned to Triple A Round Rock before Thursday's game to make room for A.J. Griffin, who was activated off the disabled list.

• The Rangers, going into Wednesday, had struck out 56 times in their last four games. That's the most ever in a four-game span in club history.

• Andrus has hit in eight different spots in the lineup this season. The only spot missing is leadoff. Andrus was the Rangers leadoff hitter in 2010 when they went to the World Series.

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. 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.