ARLINGTON -- Andy Ibáñez didn’t open the 2021 season on the Rangers' big league roster, but now he’s making his case to start.
As the Rangers fell, 11-3, to the Angels on Tuesday night at Globe Life Field, Ibáñez shined on both sides of the field, something he’s continued to do since the All-Star break.
Ibáñez has only recently become an everyday player, but manager Chris Woodward said he’s earned that opportunity. Against the Angels, he launched a 398-foot, two-run homer -- with a 98.5 mph exit velocity -- into the left-field stands that cut Los Angeles’ lead to 6-3 in the sixth inning.
Ibáñez, the Rangers' most consistent player for the past few weeks according to Woodward, has hits in 10 of his last 13 games dating back to July 20, batting .325 with six extra-base hits and just six strikeouts over that stretch. He has also raised his season batting average from .183 to .230, while his three homers since the break are second to catcher Jonah Heim for the club lead. After hitting just two homers in his first 37 games of the season, he’s homered twice in the last three games.
“I feel really comfortable with him out there right now,” Woodward said. “He’s just got to keep producing and having quality at-bats. There's gonna be games where he doesn't get a hit, but he's still putting good swings on good pitches and having quality at-bats, staying in the strike zone, doing all the things we asked.”
Ibáñez's play on defense also prevented the final score from being much worse. He and outfielder Adolis García connected for an 8-4-2 relay in the sixth to nab José Iglesias as he tried to score on a Brandon Marsh double. During Sunday’s 4-3 win over the Mariners, García and Ibáñez connected for an 8-4-5 relay to prevent an Abraham Toro triple.
“It starts with the outfielder giving a good throw that our infielders can transfer right to their target,” Woodward explained. “That's the key to it all -- giving them a catchable ball. It's just that the execution part has been really good on those relay plays, and it's not something that you work on all the time. You don't really get that many opportunities to do it. But so far, when we've had the opportunity, we've done a good job of executing.”
Ibáñez wasn't known for his defense coming up through the Minors, but he’s put on a clinic throughout the Rangers' homestand, including diving plays at second base to get outs, or simply keeping balls in the infield.
Woodward said Ibáñez’s defense was described to him as “adequate” -- though the organization had confidence in his bat. When Woodward saw Ibáñez in Spring Training, he struggled making throws across the diamond while playing third base. Since then, Ibáñez has worked to become a more versatile player and can now confidently play any of the infield positions.
He has more than exceeded Woodward’s expectations in that realm.
“Just with the quality of his play,” Woodward said. “I didn't know he had those kinds of plays in his back pocket. Like the one he made today, the sliding plays -- he's made a few of those -- up the middle, throwing guys out on relay throws. Those are plays that you can't really know until they get the opportunity in a big spot like that. He’s exceeding my expectations, but I want to see this more. I want to see how consistent he can make it.”
Ibáñez has gotten the majority of reps at second base since Nick Solak, the Rangers’ Opening Day second baseman, was optioned to Triple-A Round Rock on July 23. While Woodward can’t say for sure it’ll stay that way the rest of the season, Ibáñez has certainly earned an extended look.
“It's hard for me to say, 'Yes,' but he is [the everyday second baseman] right now,” Woodward said. “If he's our best at-bat, of course he’s going to be in there. I don't see that changing, obviously. As far as playing time goes, he's going to be out there.”