ARLINGTON -- Shin-Soo Choo hovered in the gray area between serviceable and solid for most of his previous five seasons with the Rangers, putting up offensive numbers that were slightly above average but often unbecoming of a player with a weighty seven-year, $130 million contract.
This season, Texas' investment in Choo is paying dividends as one of the most productive, reliable hitters in the lineup. In 73 games this season, Choo is hitting .289 with 12 homers and an .893 OPS -- 106 points higher than his OPS for the rest of his Rangers career. Choo has been on base in 22 of his past 23 starts and went 6-for-13 in the series against Chicago. His game-tying, bases-loaded single Saturday was the most consequential hit of the night, adding 14 percent to the Rangers’ win probability.
Manager Chris Woodward wasn’t with the club during Choo’s first five years in Texas, but he has been impressed with the 73 games Choo has played for him. Three weeks before his 37th birthday, Choo is still trying to innovate, Woodward said.
“From pitch by pitch to at-bat by at-bat, to day by day, he’s really open to trying to be as good a player as he can possibly be,” Woodward said. “[He’s] obsessed with learning how to improve. Choo’s always talking about his swing and what he’s looking for. It’s been awesome to watch because it’s so nice to have that at the top of the lineup. You trust that you’re going to get that from the first at-bat to his last at-bat.”
Choo has cleaned up his strikeout rate lately, whiffing only 10 times in his past 66 plate appearances (15.2 percent). He struck out 24 times in the 62 prior plate appearances (38.7 percent).
“For awhile there, he was getting a little frustrated because he was striking out a lot,” Woodward said. “[He] said, ‘Why am I striking out, why am I doing this?’ We talked about some of his path, just the way he was getting ready, his timing. He works so hard on his timing and his sequencing. That’s why he’s able to differentiate ball/strike and do damage on strikes. That’s the ultimate goal for a hitter, to not swing at balls and punish strikes, and he does that better than anybody on our team.
“Now it’s like every pitch that he sees in the strike zone, he’s getting a good swing on. That’s not easy to do. He’s making it look easy.”
Reliever Bush nearing return
The Rangers are close to bringing righty Matt Bush back to the Majors after he underwent surgery last season to repair a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament. Bush has been on a rehab assignment with Double-A Frisco, tossing 6 1/3 innings over six appearances without allowing a run. He is essentially ready to return, Woodward said, but the club wants to proceed cautiously.
“If we were to do something really soon, we would have to monitor him and keep him on a program where he’d pitch every other day or couldn’t pitch back-to-back, couldn’t pitch multiple innings,” Woodward said. “But if we wait a week or so … he’s ready, he’s pitching and it’s coming out good. We probably need to see a few more outings just to make sure before we get him back. But the earlier we call him up, the more careful we have to be.”
• Woodward said the Rangers were unanimous in thinking that left fielder Willie Calhoun could’ve caught a foul ball that a fan reached out and diverted down the line Saturday night. But the umpires ruled that they couldn’t determine whether it was a catchable ball.
“We could see there was some room. But the distance between where the fan touched it and where he was … when you have that much distance, you’re probably never going to win that argument,” Woodward said. “I thought he had a shot at it.”
• José Leclerc set a club record Saturday night with a strikeout in 24 consecutive relief appearances, passing Wayne Rosenthal’s 23-game streak in 1991. Leclerc’s 13.92 strikeout-per-nine-innings rate ranks third in the AL.
• Lance Lynn's victory Saturday was his ninth before the All-Star break, more than any other Ranger since Matt Harrison (11) and Yu Darvish (10) in the pre-break period of 2012. Both pitchers were selected to the All-Star team that year.
• After Sunday's 7-4 win, the Rangers optioned left-handed pitcher Kyle Bird to Triple-A Nashville. A corresponding move will be made on Tuesday.