TORONTO -- Rangers manager Chris Woodward toyed with a couple of leadoff options coming into the 2022 season. Second baseman Marcus Semien seemed like a no-brainer, having led off for 88 games during the 2021 season with the Blue Jays and for most of his career with Oakland.
The other option, Brad Miller, was less obvious. Woodward experimented with Miller in the leadoff spot during the last week of Cactus League games, saying he “loved his energy” in camp. Miller had a 1.065 OPS in Spring Training and posted an .842 OPS against right-handers in 2021.
So when Woodward wrote Miller in the leadoff spot in the Rangers’ Opening Day matchup with the Blue Jays on Friday, it might not have been the obvious choice, but it immediately paid off. Just four pitches into the game, Miller drove a pitch low and outside to the opposite field at 412 feet to ignite a four-run first inning, setting a high-scoring pace for Texas' 10-8 loss at Rogers Centre.
Competing in front of a sold-out crowd that hadn’t seen a full stadium for the Blue Jays since March 29, 2018, Miller and the Rangers silenced the opposing team’s fans at the start.
“He set the tone,” Woodward said of Miller. “That’s why I put him up there, that was the anticipation. Typically from the first pitch on, he’s ready to hit. He’s ready to attack. We put good swings on good pitches, and scored eight runs. It's obviously a pretty good Opening Day on the offensive side.”
Miller's leadoff homer was just the third in a Rangers season opener, as he joined Ian Kinsler in 2011 against Boston and Oddibe McDowell at Baltimore in 1987. It was also Miller’s third career leadoff homer, the others coming in 2018 when he was with the Rays and in ‘13 when he was with the Mariners.
Blue Jays fans weren’t silenced for long, as Toronto roared for the largest Opening Day comeback win since 1950, scoring runs in each of its last five frames.
Though the pitching struggled to hold up its end of the bargain, the Rangers’ offense -- which included homers from Adolis García and Mitch Garver in his club debut -- showed it was miles ahead of where it ended last season even as Texas fell in Toronto.
In the first inning, every Rangers batter reached base except Willie Calhoun, who made the final out. Blue Jays starter José Berríos only recorded one out before he was pulled. New franchise shortstop Corey Seager also made his Rangers debut with a 2-for-4 night and three runs scored.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the Rangers’ offense: five walks to just two strikeouts. Both strikeouts came in the ninth inning.
“I thought we did a really good job,” Woodward said. “Even later on when we didn’t score as many runs, I felt like we were putting good swings on good pitches. Those are some pretty good arms, and we put some pressure on them.”
Seager said he felt like the Rangers’ offense fell into a lull after the first few innings. After scoring seven in the first four frames, Texas’ only run in the final five was a solo homer from García that tied the game, 8-8.
“I think we just kind of lost the groove offensively for the middle part of the game and had some quick innings and didn't capitalize on stuff, and it came back to bite us,” Seager said. “[We need to] just stay doing what we’re doing. We had some good pitches to hit, it just didn’t happen for us. I don't know if I would change anything, you just kind of go out there and keep swinging.”
Despite the major offseason additions, there is still some uncertainty about the 2022 Rangers. The pitching staff is mostly young and unproven, and the bullpen needs to execute a lot better.
But these Rangers are a lot different from 2021. And if the loss to Toronto showed anything, it’s that they’re going to score runs. And lots of them.
“I’m not hitting the panic alarm or anything,” Woodward said. “I think we just let them back in the game by giving them some free passes. Three innings in a row, we had two-out walks with nobody on base. We put a ton of pressure on them early, we jumped out early, got Berríos out of the game and got their bullpen right away. I felt like our at-bat quality was really, really good. We’ve got to execute better. I think that's the bottom line.”