Third is the word: Jung moves up in lineup, stays hot

Rangers' rookie hits in No. 3 spot for first time, powers win over White Sox

June 20th, 2023

CHICAGO -- When  walked into the clubhouse Monday afternoon and saw his name written third on the lineup card, he only had one thought. 

“That’s cool,” he said with a smile. 

It’s the first time the Rangers’ rookie third baseman has batted that high in the lineup in his young big league career, as he usually slots into the five-hole this season and only has seven career games batting cleanup. Bumped up a few spots, Jung came through with a 3-for-5 day -- including a two-run homer in the third inning -- in Texas’ 5-2 win over the White Sox. He scored two of Texas' five runs. 

It’s the first time manager Bruce Bochy has tweaked the lineup this season when the top five hitters -- Marcus Semien, Corey Seager, Nathaniel Lowe, Adolis García and Jung in that order -- are all starting.

Bochy said pregame that he had considered flip-flopping Jung and Lowe against a left-handed starter for a few weeks now, to avoid having two left-handed hitters in Seager and Lowe going back-to-back. With Chicago starting lefty Tanner Banks on Monday in a bullpen game, and Jung entering the day hitting .328/.366/.627 against left-handed pitchers this season, it was the perfect opportunity to try it out.

Not only did Jung enjoy a productive night, but Lowe -- hitting in the five hole instead of third like usual -- went 1-for-3 with a single and two walks.

Exactly how the skipper drew it up.

“It worked out well,” Bochy said. “Josh, he’s had a lot of success off lefties. I just liked the way it looked. It’s a lineup you could see in certain situations, breaking up to two lefties there. It's good to see it work out, especially for those guys because you're moving them around a bit. You know they're used to hitting third or fifth and they had no problem with it, as far as mentally having things changed up a little bit. You look at what Nate did, he had two hits, a couple of walks, too. So that really couldn’t have worked out better.”

Bochy said he will definitely consider using this lineup when the opposing team starts lefties, but the lineup against right-handers will likely remain the same as it has all season. 

Jung, for what it’s worth, handles it all in stride no matter where he’s hitting in the lineup. But he also acknowledges that it means a lot to him that Bochy and the coaching staff trust him enough to continue placing him in the heart of the order every night, whether that’s fifth or third. 

Jung (career, entering play Monday): 

  • Batting 4th (7 games): .222/.300/.407
  • Batting 5th (74 games): .266/.319/.479
  • Batting 6th (11 games): .209/.209/.419

“It definitely feels good,” Jung said. “That's really all there is to it. I mean, I think everyone in here hit third their whole life, pretty much on every team they played on. So when I saw that’s where I was, it was just pretty cool that it was my first time in the big leagues.”

In Monday’s win, Jung also hit the 20th home run of his MLB career in game No. 95. That is the second-fewest games to reach 20 career home runs by any player in franchise history, behind only Chris Davis, who hit his 20th HR in his 94th career game in 2009. 

Jung, the AL Rookie of the Month for both April and May, has continued his hot streak well into June as he pushes for a potential All-Star game bid to go along with his Rookie of the Year campaign. He’s slashing .333/.406/.605 with seven home runs and 19 RBIs over his last 30 games while continuing to be one of the most vital parts of the Rangers’ lineup.

Bochy said Jung is “way up there” among some of the best rookies he’s managed in his illustrious career. 

“He’s a winning type of player,” Bochy said. “And what I mean by that is that he's good in those big situations for a young rookie. He has a poise and calmness about him, yet he's very amped up when he's playing the game. He plays with a lot of energy and that's what you love about him, but he's able to control that.”