Andrus takes aim at continued growth as a hitter

Andrus takes aim at continued growth as a hitter

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- When Elvis Andrus strolled into the Rangers clubhouse this spring buffed out with eight additional pounds of upper-body muscle, a surprised reporter remarked that the gifted shortstop looked more like A-Rod than Elvis.

"I want to continue to grow every year," Andrus said, beaming. "Last year was a great year, and I continued to work harder in the offseason. I prepared myself a little harder this offseason and feel good doing it. I'm a little stronger. Maybe I can drive the ball a little better."

Andrus' early spring activities were slowed by a tender heel, but it didn't show on Monday when he went 3-for-3 with a run-scoring triple and made a spectacular play in the field against the Royals.

His mission to become a more complete player is admirable, offering insight into his desire to take full advantage of his many talents. With three full Major League seasons under his belt, the smooth Venezuelan won't turn 24 until Aug. 26.

While the national perception of the two-time defending American League champions focuses on an offense that clubs opponents into submission, they also beat you with superb baserunning and a defense that supports a deep, complete pitching staff.

The key figures on the bases and in the heart of the defense are Andrus and second baseman Ian Kinsler. There isn't a more productive tandem in the game, with the gloves or in jump-starting an offense surpassed in runs scored last season by only the Red Sox and Yankees.

The two-way impact of Kinsler and Andrus is underscored by the analytics of baseballinfosolutions.com. Kinsler, with 45, and Andrus, with 43, led the Majors in manufactured runs.

With 29 runs saved defensively, 16 by Kinsler, they surpassed every double-play combo in the game. They were followed by the Mariners' Brendan Ryan and Dustin Ackley (28) and the Rays' Ben Zobrist and Reid Brignac (25).

While Kinsler, with his 32 home runs and .255 batting average in 2011, might not appear to be a prototypical leadoff man, his .355 on-base mark was solid, and the only baserunner who appears to be in his class is his partner, Andrus.

Kinsler was successful on 30 of 34 steal attempts for an AL-best 88 percent success rate. He took 31 bases while giving up only three outs.

Andrus is close to the ideal No. 2 hitter, with his .279 batting average and .347 OBP along with 37 steals in 49 attempts (76 percent). He took 37 bases while also giving up only three outs.

The Rangers led the Majors in manufactured runs with 203, 33 more than their AL West rivals, the Angels. The Royals were second in the Majors with 186 manufactured runs.

Kinsler and Andrus manufactured more runs together (88) than the three best Angels -- Peter Bourjos (28), Erick Aybar (24) and Howie Kendrick (21).

What this means is the Rangers, without much fanfare, were not necessarily pounding the Angels in taking the season series, 12-7. They were beating manager Mike Scioscia's troupe at its own game, with aggression on the basepaths and small ball.

Imagine that.

Andrus, with 33, 32 and 37 steals in his three seasons, isn't planning to start yanking balls into the left-field seats in the fashion of Kinsler. But he wouldn't mind adding some points to his slugging mark, which rose by 60 last season to .361 with 27 doubles, three triples and five homers.

"Every year you're going to get something new in your game," Andrus said. "The last two or three months, I learned a lot of things about my hitting -- and about myself."

Andrus was blazing down the stretch, putting together a .318/.429/.477 line across the final month with 10 extra-base hits in 23 games.

The power surge did not, however, carry over to the postseason. Andrus scored 10 runs in the Rangers' 17 games but drove in only one with one extra-base hit, a double, in 68 at-bats.

That might have had something to do with his drive to add a touch of muscle to his upper body.

Originally signed by the Braves as a free agent in 2005, Andrus was part of the non-waiver deadline trade in 2007 that sent Mark Teixeira to Atlanta -- and serves as a cautionary note to all clubs unloading prospects for that perceived missing piece.

Neftali Feliz and Matt Harrison came with Andrus along with Jarrod Saltalamacchia in the deal that just keeps giving, making Texans smile -- and thank Teixeira -- on a daily basis.

Andrus and Kinsler. They go together like Texas barbecue and ... more Texas barbecue.

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