Rangers lineup getting in order

Rangers order is taking shape

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Ian Kinsler batted leadoff for the Rangers on Saturday and that's likely going to stay that way regardless of who is pitching.

Josh Hamilton batted cleanup on Saturday but that's likely to change when Milton Bradley is healthy and ready to play. Hamilton may have the most power of anybody on this team, but manager Ron Washington still wants Bradley hitting cleanup.

That's the way Washington laid it out on a cold Saturday morning in Surprise when he talked at length about his lineup. There are three weeks to go before the regular season, but Washington still has a pretty good idea about the order of appearance for his offense.

As of now it looks like this:

1. Ian Kinsler, 2B: It all starts with Kinsler, who is making a compelling case for being the Rangers leadoff hitter. In nine games batting at the top of the order, Kinsler has gone 10-for-20 with three walks and a hit-by-pitch. That works for Washington, who originally considered Frank Catalanotto for the leadoff spot against right-handed pitchers.

"He just needs to keep getting on base and doing what he's doing." Washington said. "If he keeps it up, it's a done deal. Everything I've read says he wants to do it and so far it's good."

2. Josh Hamilton, CF: Everything Hamilton has done this spring suggests he could be a middle-of-the-order run producer. The power in his bat has been impressive and he smashed a grand slam on Friday in his first game in the cleanup spot.

But Washington still sees Hamilton starting out in the No. 2 spot in the order simply because he'll see more fastballs there when batting ahead of Michael Young and Bradley. Hamilton also has some speed but the Rangers don't seem him as a big basestealing threat yet.

"As he goes along, starts taking some chances and sees that he can do it, he might become one," Washington said. "But he's still learning the game. He told us that if he has one weakness, it's baserunning. He just hasn't had enough experience."

3. Michael Young, SS: He is in this spot for one reason.

"I want my best hitter batting third," Washington said.

4. Milton Bradley, DH: Washington is adamant about this despite how Hamilton has looked this spring. Washington is convinced that Bradley, a switch-hitter, is his best option at cleanup because he can handle the offspeed stuff.

"Milton's the guy," Washington said. "If he's healthy, he's the guy. Milton will handle it. Milton can bat anywhere. He doesn't care. He's going to have the same at-bats and not change his approach."

Bradley has at least 100 at-bats in his career in the first seven spots in the batting order. As a cleanup hitter he's batting .338 with a .447 on-base percentage and a .546 slugging percentage, his best numbers at any spot in the order.

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5. Hank Blalock, 3B: Blalock has 668 career at-bats as a cleanup hitter, batting .266 with 22 home runs and 97 RBIs. But he's a .292 hitter with 22 home runs and 88 RBIs in the No. 5 spot and that's where Washington wants to leave him.

"I'll hit Hank [cleanup] if I deem it necessary, but I just want Hank in a spot where he can get fastballs and do his thing," Washington said. "I don't want Hank up there worrying about the offspeed stuff."

6. Marlon Byrd, LF: This gives Washington a right-handed hitter between Blalock and two left-handed hitters behind him. That's crucial late in the game when an opposing manager brings in his best left-handed setup reliever. David Murphy will also hit down in the order when he's in the starting lineup.

7. Frank Catalanotto, DH: Catalanotto has a .359 career on-base percentage, including a .374 OBP in the leadoff spot. But he's also a pure hitter who seems adaptable to any spot in the lineup. Kinsler also has more speed with 34 stolen bases in two seasons. Catalanotto has 42 in his 11-year career. Catalanotto will likely sit when a left-handed starter is on the mound.

8. Ben Broussard, 1B: Broussard has a career average of one RBI per 6.71 at-bats. That's the third highest ratio of anybody on the Rangers behind Hamilton (6.34) and Blalock (6.46). He has been platooned in his career against left-handed pitchers, but Washington isn't planning on that this season.

9. Gerald Laird or Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C: This is a good spot for Laird because he can run well for a catcher and Washington said he's one of the best bunters on the team. He has 17 bunt hits over the past two seasons, tied for the seventh most among all Major Leaguers. He's trailing the likes of Willy Taveras, Juan Pierre, Corey Patterson and Joey Gathright.

The advantage of having Saltalamacchia batting ninth if he ends up the catcher is that it takes some pressure off him as far as required offensive production and allows him to focus on defense and working with pitchers.

Of course, all of this is predicated on the Rangers staying healthy. A year ago Washington wasn't planning on Byrd batting cleanup but that ended up being the case when Mark Teixeira was traded and Blalock went down with injuries.

By May, Washington could be re-doing the entire lineup based on performance or injuries. But this is the way it lines up in early March.

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