Early-season check-in: Rangers' biggest developments, surprises

April 23rd, 2023

This story was excerpted from Kennedi Landry’s Rangers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers look good. Actually, they are good. Texas is 13-7 heading into the series finale against the A’s on Sunday and boasting one of the club’s best starts to a season this century.

That being said, here’s the first Rangers Inbox of the regular season (questions edited for clarity):

Early temperature gauge? Team chemistry, Bochy and staff developments, biggest surprises would be great -- from @cjbcool on Twitter

Nothing is better for team morale than winning. And the Rangers are doing quite a bit of that right now.

The vibes are undoubtedly the best they have been since I started covering the team in 2021, and it’s no secret that that will happen when you have an elite rotation and a solid lineup that’s winning a lot of games, even without and . The team chemistry is good, Bruce Bochy’s staff additions in Mike Maddux and Will Venable are clearly meshing well and things are moving in the right direction for Texas.

The biggest surprise so far has been . He wasn’t even supposed to make the Opening Day roster and Bochy told him before the team left Arizona that he would start the season in Triple-A Round Rock. But with ’ oblique injury leading to an open roster spot, Jankowski was called upon, and he has made the most of the opportunity. Entering Saturday, the outfielder was hitting .313 with a 148 OPS+ and topping his career averages in all three slash categories. How long will this last? Who knows. But for now, he’s contributing exactly in the way the Rangers need.

It looked like Josh H. Smith was going to get most of the starts at SS for a month, but with the way [Ezequiel] Duran has been hitting the ball, do you think he’s about to take over the position for a bit? -- from @dopamine1 on Twitter

Short answer, no.

The long answer is that neither of them is hitting the ball dramatically better than the other, and though Bochy has noted his confidence in both of the second-year infielders, Smith is definitely still getting the lion's share of the reps at shortstop, likely due to his experience at the position throughout the Minors and his more refined control of the strike zone at the big league level.

Entering Saturday, when Smith started against the A’s:

Smith (16 games): .147/.370/.147

Duran (12 games): .219/.242/.250

With the bullpen, are there any strategy changes/role definitions that Bochy has started to settle on? -- from @samweys96 on Twitter

Bochy seems to have developed a bit of a feel for when he uses certain guys at this point in the season. and are multi-inning arms, while and Will Smith have logged most of the club’s saves at this point. Even guys like and  have been primarily used as late-game set-up arms for the closers.

Nothing is truly set in stone, but Bochy and Maddux, Texas' pitching coach, clearly have an idea of what they want to do with the bullpen arms. And it’s worked for far for the most part. Entering Saturday, the Rangers' bullpen ranked third in ERA in the league at 2.70.

“I think we’re getting a better feel, and Mike, I'll speak for him too, but I think they're getting a better feel for us and kind of how we're gonna work this and use it,” Bochy said. “I brought him in before the season to talk about roles and how they’re not going to be so defined. But just the job that they're doing makes it easy to put them all in any situation.”

Who has the best walkup song? -- from @deafgaynerd on Twitter

Best question for last, especially considering that I took the liberty of making a playlist with all the Rangers’ walk-up songs last week. 

I’m not a fan of country music, so that eliminates a good bit of the lineup. My favorite would have to be between Butterfly Effect by Travis Scott (), Suga Suga by Baby Bash (Josh H. Smith) and any of ’s wide range of Drake songs he shuffles through. The Hills by the Weeknd, while a great song, is not the best for a walk-up song -- sorry .