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Blalock uses extra ABs to advantage

Blalock uses extra ABs to advantage

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Third baseman Hank Blalock needs at-bats and was willing to take a 2-1/2 hour bus ride to get them. Turns out the trip was worth it as Blalock tries to accelerate his preparations for Opening Day.

Blalock brought a .214 batting average to Tucson with him, but jumped it more than a few points with a double and a home run in three at-bats in the Rangers' 8-7 victory over the Diamondbacks on Thursday afternoon.

"He stroked the ball well," Rangers manager Ron Washington said.

Blalock is now hitting .258 with two home runs and eight RBIs. He did make his first error of the spring in the game, but that was on a dropped foul popup. His surgically repaired shoulder has held up fine and now it's a matter of getting his swing and timing in regular-season shape.

He fell behind early in camp because of some shoulder soreness and a minor car accident, but those are no longer issues. He just needs at-bats, which is why he made a rare second trip to Tucson even though regulars are required to make just one. He had 28 at-bats for the spring before Thursday while shortstop Michael Young and Ian Kinsler -- who did not make the trip -- both have 40. All of them should start increasing their playing time as the spring comes to a close.

"I was getting real inconsistent playing time with the soreness and the car crash, but now my body is feeling good and I'm putting together some quality at-bats as we go down to the finish line," Blalock said.

The Rangers need that. Blalock is the only player in camp who has hit at least 30 home runs in a season and Edgardo Alfonzo and Young are the only other two who have ever driven in 100 runs in a season. Blalock did that in 2004 when he set career highs with 32 home runs and 110 RBIs.

Both numbers, however, have declined in each of the last three seasons, dropping to 10 home runs and 33 RBIs in 2007 while missing over three months because of the shoulder surgery. Despite that, Blalock remains a huge part of the offense though as the No. 5 hitter in the lineup and finishing the spring strong would certainly make some people feel good.

"I feel motivated every year in the spring regardless of what happened the year before," Blalock said. "I love baseball and I love the challenge of getting it going every spring. I always have high expectations whether I'm coming back from an injury or a strong year. I have the same motivation regardless."

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

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