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Rangers pitchers focus on 'conversion counts'

MLB.com @Sullivan_Ranger

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- "Conversion counts" are a big topic of discussion this year in Rangers camp as they try to improve a pitching staff that struggled last season.

The idea is to focus on early counts that can swing or "convert" an at-bat from a negative to a positive situation.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- "Conversion counts" are a big topic of discussion this year in Rangers camp as they try to improve a pitching staff that struggled last season.

The idea is to focus on early counts that can swing or "convert" an at-bat from a negative to a positive situation.

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"It has always been a part of the conversation, but [now there's] a little more emphasis," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "There are times when you are going to get behind 1-0 and you've got to make a pitch to get it to 1-1, make the hitter put it in play, attack the strike zone. Just force the hitter to do something, put the ball in play or take a strike.

"We've got to get better at those. At times last year that's what led to the walks or other negative situations for hitters. We are taking a more concentrated effort that these are the counts you have to force a hitter to do something."

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The Rangers threw first-pitch strikes just 58.5 percent of the time in 2017, the third-lowest rate in the American League. But that doesn't mean the at-bat is over, and the next pitch could be just as crucial.

Last year, opponents hit .280 with a .502 on-base percentage and a .498 slugging percentage after the count reached 2-0. They hit .242 with a .316 on-base percentage and a .404 slugging percentage after the count reached 1-1.

The underlying message is the 1-0 "conversion" count can change an entire at-bat.

"It gets really dicey once you get behind in the count," Banister said. "It's getting back into positive situations and gaining ground."

It also changes the pitching narrative away from an incessant, self-fulfilling prophecy of harping over not walking anybody. Pitchers already have that figured out. Constantly screaming and agonizing over it doesn't seem to be working.

"Can we spark that focus, paint a different picture so it's understandable, usable and tangible to them," Banister said. "It seems to be locking in."

Choo at DH

Shin-Soo Choo was in the lineup on Sunday against the Rockies for the Rangers' second Cactus League game. Choo was listed as the designated hitter, which means little considering Rougned Odor was the DH on Saturday.

Video: Outlook: Choo has solid OBP thanks to his sharp eye

This is early Spring Training, but Choo still figures to be the Rangers' primary designated hitter this year. He is still hoping to play the field, as well. He does not want to be labeled as a full-time designated hitter. Choo had 65 starts at designated hitter last year and 75 in the outfield.

"The first thing is what's best for the team," Choo said. "That's the first choice. The second thing is for me and Banny to be on the same page so we both understand and both agree."

Rangers beat 

Elvis Andrus (back spasms) and Adrian Beltre both worked out with the team on the field before Sunday's game. The Rangers aren't ready to put either in a game, but they are getting closer.

• Infielder Hanser Alberto is going to miss a few games with tightness in his left hamstring.

• The Rangers have reached agreements with Alex Claudio, Nick Gardewine and Joe Palumbo on contracts, and have all players signed for the season.

• Odor had two walks Sunday. He had just 32 walks last season and only four games with two or more walks.

Up next

Left-hander Mike Minor takes the mound against the Dodgers at 2 p.m. CT on Monday in Surprise. Listen to the game on an exclusive audiocast on rangers.com. This will be Minor's first start of the spring as he attempts to win a spot in the Rangers' rotation. Nomar Mazara is also expected to be in the Rangers' lineup for their third Cactus League game.

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.

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