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Andrus makes spring debut, ready for star turn

Shortstop dealt with minor back spasms early in camp
Special to MLB.com

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- It's impossible to predict yet what Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus will do for an encore after the most productive season of his career, but he is once again onstage after sitting out the first week of Spring Training.

After dealing with minor back spasms early in camp, Andrus started Friday's 9-4 loss to the Indians at Goodyear Ballpark, playing shortstop and batting second in his first Cactus League action this year. He singled in his first at-bat, made the Rangers' first putout on a routine grounder and departed after a 1-for-2 first day.

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GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- It's impossible to predict yet what Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus will do for an encore after the most productive season of his career, but he is once again onstage after sitting out the first week of Spring Training.

After dealing with minor back spasms early in camp, Andrus started Friday's 9-4 loss to the Indians at Goodyear Ballpark, playing shortstop and batting second in his first Cactus League action this year. He singled in his first at-bat, made the Rangers' first putout on a routine grounder and departed after a 1-for-2 first day.

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Andrus' next game action will come Sunday barring any setbacks, manager Jeff Banister said.

"The goal was to get him on the field for the first time, get some innings under him, get his feet on the dirt, see some pitches," Banister said. "He swung the bat well, first at-bat, got a base hit and logged in some pitches."

Tweet from @Rangers: He���s back! pic.twitter.com/Rqig3YckpR

Last season, Andrus set career highs in virtually every offensive category, including hits (191), doubles (44), homers (20), RBIs (88), slugging percentage (.471) and OPS (.808). His performance in 2017 would seem a hard act to follow, but '16 was also a standout year as Andrus notched his career highs in batting average (.302) and on-base percentage (.362).

Catcher Robinson Chirinos thinks Andrus is ready for another star turn.

"I was working with Elvis this whole offseason and I know he put the work in to come and have a better season this year," Chirinos said. "Hopefully he can stay healthy and be in the field every day, do what he did last year -- and why not better?"

That's the question: Entering his 10th Major League season, has Andrus, who turns 30 in August, peaked yet?

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

"There's always a question of getting better," Banister said. "When you think about 'let's just maintain,' you're settling in, and I don't think that's anything Elvis wants to do. He can continue to get better defensively. Offensively, he's going to continue to progress. … When you look at the durability of Elvis and how he has matured as a hitter and as a player, you can always add to that."

Banister then added a caveat that could apply to any veteran entering his 30s: "Sometimes it's a brave new world with how we are athletically when we're a year older. So we've got to find that out."

Prospect Mendez sharp again
Starting pitcher Yohander Mendez, the Rangers' No. 6 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, allowed one run on three hits in three innings Friday, striking out three Indians hitters and walking none. The lefty threw two scoreless innings with three strikeouts in his first spring appearance last week.

"He looked great to me," Chirinos said. "His fastball was really good. … He was getting ahead, and he was throwing strikes."

Mendez, 23, pitched in seven games for Texas in 2017, recording a 5.11 ERA in 12 1/3 innings. He spent most of last season with Double-A Frisco, where he went 7-8 with a 3.79 ERA and 124 strikeouts in 137 2/3 innings over 24 starts.

Video: Top Prospects: Yohander Mendez, LHP, Rangers

Blackburn 'intriguing' Banister
Pitcher Clayton Blackburn might be developing into this year's under-the-radar overachiever thus far in Rangers camp, having tossed three more scoreless innings in Thursday's split-squad win over the A's and earning Banister's continued attention.

"As we sit right now, he's that guy," Banister said of the right-hander, who has thrown five scoreless innings this spring after going 23-16 with a 4.00 ERA in 68 Triple-A outings (62 starts) the past three seasons.

"He continues to throw a good sinking, running fastball. It makes it very challenging for right-handed hitters," Banister said. "The offspeed stuff played well for him. … He's very intriguing. We'll continue to watch this as we move forward with this. We'll keep running him out there."

Odor's approach evolving
Banister remains optimistic about second baseman Rougned Odor's efforts to be more patient at the plate. Odor has walked four times in five games and has appeared more selective in his swings, including when he doubled off Trevor Bauer in the third inning on Friday.

Odor walked 32 times in 162 games while striking out 162 times last season. His OBP was an abysmal .252 to go along with a .204 batting average that was more than 60 points lower than his career average entering 2017. His batting average on balls in play (.224) was the worst among all qualified hitters in the Majors.

The strategy to get Odor back on track is to "look for a more productive aggression in the batter's box," Banister said. "On the other hand, singles and doubles are OK. He can run, he's a multi-threat player. … I like the fact that he understands that and is kind of getting back to that mindset."

Video: Outlook: Odor could be valuable performer in 2018

Up next
Lefty Cole Hamels will see his first official Cactus League action, starting in Scottsdale against the split-squad Giants at 2:05 p.m. CT on Saturday (listen live on Gameday Audio). Hamels, 34, begins his third full season with the Rangers after spending the first 10 years of his career with the Phillies.

Dave Sessions is a contributor to MLB.com.

Texas Rangers, Elvis Andrus, Clayton Blackburn, Yohander Mendez, Rougned Odor