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Beltre meets up with new key cogs in Rangers' lineup

On hand to accept 2013 award, slugger discusses health, hitting behind Prince

GRAPEVINE, Texas -- Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre showed up at the club's Awards Dinner on Friday night and was able to actually walk without a limp.

"It's the offseason," Beltre said with a smile.

So how are his legs these days?

"Good enough," Beltre said, still smiling.

That's what Beltre usually says in the dog days of August and the stretch run of September, when he is dealing with various aches and pains in his calf and hamstring muscles. Presumably the offseason is supposed to heal all of that.

"I am what I am," Beltre said, making a rare Texas offseason appearance to accept his award as the Rangers Player of the Year in 2013. "I'm doing basically what I did last year. If that's going to help me play 160-plus games, I'll be OK. I'll take whatever games played I had last year."

Beltre fought his way through 161 games in 2013, leading the club with a .315 batting average, 30 home runs, 92 RBIs, a .371 on-base percentage and a .509 slugging percentage. But his battered legs couldn't carry the Rangers' lineup, and their offensive woes were a big reason why their season came to an end in a one-game play-in for a Wild Card berth.

Help is on the way, and Beltre got his first meet-and-greet with his new teammates as some of the Rangers stars came out of offseason hibernation for the banquet on Friday night. First baseman Prince Fielder and outfielder Shin-Soo Choo were both there as well. None of those three players had spoken to one another this winter since the Rangers acquired Fielder from the Tigers for second baseman Ian Kinsler and signed Choo to a seven-year, $130 million contract in December.

"I haven't talked to anybody," Choo said. "I signed and two days later went back to Korea. I stayed 20 days there and just came back four days ago. I leave for Arizona, so I'll practice and I'll know everybody [who] comes in."

Beltre played with Choo in Seattle. This will be the first time he has been teammates with Fielder, and now they'll be hitting back-to-back in the Rangers' lineup.

"I played against him for many years, and I've talked to him a little bit," Beltre said. "I don't know him that well, but we'll have time to get to know each other. It's going to be great. I think that bringing Prince and having Choo in front of the lineup is going to be really great for us, especially giving us more balance.

"It's a big loss in Ian, but in time, I think the bats we added are going to be really good for us."

Choo was signed to be Texas' leadoff hitter, while Fielder and Beltre were both cleanup hitters last year. January lineups have a tendency to change with the weather, but right now, manager Ron Washington is planning on using Fielder as his No. 3 hitter and keeping Beltre in the cleanup spot.

"As long as I'm in the lineup, I'm OK," Beltre said. "I don't know what suits me best. I don't keep track. When I see my name in the lineup, I'm OK, as long as I have a little protection. I don't care where I am."

He might be missing out on something. Fielder spent the past three years batting cleanup behind the league's Most Valuable Player. Ryan Braun won it for the Brewers in 2011, and Miguel Cabrera did so the past two seasons after Fielder signed with the Tigers.

"Those guys are great players by themselves," Fielder said. "I was just there to watch them be great. I was not in the batter's box with them. They didn't need my help."

They certainly didn't mind having Fielder providing protection in the cleanup spot. Now Fielder has Beltre behind him.

"I think it will be outstanding," Fielder said. "I'm not upset about it at all. He's a great hitter. He hits for power and he hits for average. He drives in runs. Anytime you can hit in front of a guy like that, it's not going to hurt."

Maybe it bodes well for Fielder.

"He's going to be the MVP," Beltre said. "It's time. My job is to protect him."

Beltre won't be unprotected. Alex Rios is expected to hit fifth, and he batted .278 last season with 18 home runs and 81 RBIs combined with the Rangers and White Sox. But the Rangers also know they need the bottom of the lineup to produce, with Mitch Moreland at designated hitter, Geovany Soto and J.P. Arencibia sharing catching duties, Jurickson Profar at second base and Leonys Martin in center.

The Rangers haven't been able to solve all their question marks, even though the feeling is they have addressed their winter offensive goals and won't need Beltre to try to carry the load.

"I hope so," Beltre said. "On paper it looks better. We all have to as a team get out there and do our job and try to win ballgames."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger.

Texas Rangers, Adrian Beltre, Shin-Soo Choo, Prince Fielder