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Rolling along, Rangers get Beltre back Friday

Despite numerous injuries to key players, Texas finds itself in first place

SEATTLE -- The Rangers were 4-4 and a third-place team after Adrian Beltre's last game. Fifteen days later, they have won 10 of 14 and are in first place in the American League West.

The Rangers will still welcome him back Friday even if it means Kevin Kouzmanoff -- who has been one of their hottest hitters -- has to take a seat on the bench.

"He means a lot," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "Beltre is our leader and he's our guy, and we'll be happy to get him back."

Beltre, who has been sidelined with a strained left quad muscle, is one of a Major League-high 11 players on Texas' disabled list. The Rangers' mantra going into the season was to try to stay afloat until they started getting key players healthy. Instead the injuries keep mounting and the Rangers keep winning, even when there was a point in Tuesday's 5-4 victory over the Athletics when the three batters due up in the sixth inning were Luis Sardinas, Donnie Murphy and Robinson Chirinos.

They were hitting in the fifth, sixth and seventh spots in the order. Three years ago, in their run to a second World Series, the Rangers probably would have had Nelson Cruz, Mike Napoli and David Murphy hitting in those spots.

But Donnie Murphy and fellow utility vagabond Josh Wilson are thriving in key roles, Kouzmanoff has been reborn as a Major League player and Chirinos suddenly looks like a maestro in working with Rangers pitchers. While Beltre has been down, Prince Fielder and Mitch Moreland have yet to get going at the plate, but all three outfielders -- Shin-Soo Choo, Leonys Martin and Alex Rios -- are all hitting .300 or better.

Matt Harrison and Derek Holland have yet to throw a pitch, but Martin Perez has been almost lights out and so too has Yu Darvish, even if his run support is negligible. Despite all the injuries, Texas' rotation is 7-4 with a 3.45 ERA, fourth-lowest in the American League.

The bullpen is also starting to come together now that Alexi Ogando has figured out his delivery and Joakim Soria has been solid at the back of the line at a time when many managers -- Oakland's Bob Melvin foremost among them -- are still trying to identify a closer.

The Rangers aren't winning with the plan they drew up in the offseason, but they are still winning and it may have something to do more with the culture of the team that has been in place long before Choo and Fielder were acquired.

"We're the Texas Rangers, we play the game for nine innings, we play the game hard and we enjoy it," Washington said. "That's the way we've always been. Our character hasn't changed, we just had to make sure we were all on the same page. It all depends on the attitude you have.

"We talked about attitude in Spring Training and it's showing. We don't have the guys we're supposed to have, so we have to care about what we do have. Just because you don't have who you want doesn't mean you can't win games."

So Beltre comes back Friday night and Harrison is scheduled to pitch Sunday for the first time in over a year. The Rangers still don't know if Choo will have to go on the disabled list with a sprained left foot, but Michael Choice was on base five times in 10 plate appearances, plus a game-winning RBI as the leadoff hitter in the last two wins of an improbable sweep of the Athletics.

Choo's ankle problem doesn't seem as tough as Jim Adduci going down with a broken finger right when he was finding his niche in the Majors as a productive role player after 10 years of wandering through the Minors, or Pedro Figueroa going down with a bad elbow after starting to conquer his command and control demons.

The script keeps getting altered day after day as outfielder Dan Robertson arrives from the obscurity of the Padres' farm system and spot starter Nick Martinez is now suddenly the best candidate as the long reliever. Maybe all of this is why general manager Jon Daniels posed the question earlier this week, wondering if all of this was Washington's best managing job.

That's to be determined, and the possibility still exists the Rangers could struggle as the season progresses and the disabled list doesn't start getting pared down to a more manageable single-digit number.

But as Washington always says, it's not the best team that wins, but the team that plays the best. The Rangers have always known that, and so far, they continue to prove it.

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, Michael Choice, Shin-Soo Choo, Yu Darvish, Prince Fielder, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Leonys Martin, Mitch Moreland, Donnie Murphy, Martin Perez, Joakim Soria, Josh Wilson