Coming off his best game in weeks, Rougned Odor was asked Monday night what helped him have a successful game.
The Texas Rangers second baseman, who had been 5-for-51 over 13 games, said that it was a credit to a high level of focus. Naturally, that led to some follow-up questions, both in the moment and again Tuesday afternoon.
Odor is going through what rates as a disappointing season. Sure, he has 28 home runs, but he also has struggled to keep his batting average above .200 much of the season and is getting on base only at a slightly higher rate.
He has committed 16 errors defensively.
He hasn’t been playing with the infield dirt or throwing his glove in the air between pitches. He doesn’t appear to be distracted during at-bats by shiny objects in the stands.
So, just where has his focus been?
The good news is that focus has been an issue for just about every player at one time in their careers, and the Rangers recognize that and aren’t overly concerned about it. Of all the things a player must be able to do, staying dialed in is one of the toughest.
“It’s a muscle that needs to be exercised all the time,” manager Jeff Banister said. “We’re focused all the time. It’s just what are we focused on. It’s the ability to stay engaged, stay directed, don’t get distracted.”
Odor was back in the lineup Tuesday as the Rangers attempted to play the Atlanta Braves at SunTrust Park. But steady rain, sometimes in the form of a downpour, forced the postponement of Tuesday’s game and set up a doubleheader on Wednesday at 12:35 p.m. and 6:35 p.m.
Banister said that facing knuckleballer R.A. Dickey might have forced Odor to zero in as the knuckleball fluttered toward home. Odor doubled and collected a sacrifice fly against Dickey, then homered off Matt Wisler shortly after Dickey was pulled.
Different pitching styles, but the same result.
The hope is that Odor keeps the focus he had Monday night.
“Sometimes I lose my focus and I don’t get my at-bats like how I need to get them,” Odor said. “Right now, I’m just trying to get focused for every at-bat, every pitch and every swing.”
The Rangers player who heretofore was thought to have the biggest problems with his focus was Elvis Andrus, who broke into the major leagues in 2009 as a 19-year-old. Odor was 20 when he debuted in 2009 and is only 23 and in only his second full-time big-league season without any time in the minors.
There are only a few, rare exceptions of players who show up on Day One and are locked in. Andrus cited Mike Trout, the two-time American League MVP for the Los Angeles Angels.
Odor is experiencing something that even some of the game’s all-time greats experienced.
“I went through the same thing, and for me it was about knowing myself, what I can do, know what the league is doing to me and make that adjustment,” Andrus said. “It’s something Adrian [Beltre] told me he went through and every player will go through. For me, it’s completely normal. But he’s still playing hard and going out there and trying to do his best. As a player, that’s what you want.”
Banister said that it’s unrealistic to expect players to be 100 percent focused for every minute of every game. There are times when they need a softer focus, say between pitches while in the field, and times when their focus needs to be sharp.
Odor is learning that, and might need a few more seasons before he’s to the level of Andrus and a few more until he’s as steely during a game as Beltre.
“They’re not drugstore manikins,” Banister said. “They’ve got to be able to swing on and off and in and out.”
But to think that Odor doesn’t care or isn’t concerned about the way he is playing because of an admitted lack of focus just isn’t right.
He’s young. He’s still learning the game. Even some of the greats have dealt with what he’s experiencing.
Odor’s focus is going to get better.
“I always talk to him,” Andrus said. “It’s just a matter of time for him. ‘Just keep playing,’ that’s what I always tell him. I know his average and strikeouts, he wants to change that, but there’s nothing he can do. Just have a short memory and keep playing hard.
“He’s going to keep growing and is going to keep playing, and he’s going to figure it out. It’s time. It’s cool that he’s finding a solution out there.”
AL wild-card standings
Note: Top two teams, marked with x, would make the playoffs if season ended today.
Rangers at Braves
12:35 p.m. and 6:35 p.m.,