Rangers are bash-full, and no one has to ask One look at lineup reveals big hitters

April 12, 1993|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

SEATTLE -- In the days of covered wagons, they had a word for it when an unsuspecting enemy was lured into Texas. They called it an ambush.

Which is about what the Texas Rangers have been doing to their American League foes. The major difference is there are no surprises -- each opponent is well aware of the destructive power of the Rangers' lineup.

That definitely includes the Orioles, who lost to the Rangers in the first two games of the season and face them again the next three nights.

The Rangers will not keep up their current pace (averaging two home runs for the first five games), but those who suspect this might be an early-season mirage are advised to wait for a second look.

"I think this team could break the all-time [single-season] record for home runs," reliever Tom Henke said. "It has that kind of potential."

Had he checked the record (240 by the 1961 Yankees), Henke may have had second thoughts, but he qualifies as an authority on potent offenses.

Before signing with the Rangers as a free agent, Henke spent his major-league career as the closer for the Toronto Blue Jays and thus got a close-up look at the most imposing lineups in the American League.

"The Blue Jays have more speed, but this team has a lot more power," Henke said. "There are four or five guys here who can hit 25-30 home runs.

"And a guy like [Juan] Gonzalez has unlimited potential. He doesn't realize yet how good he is," Henke said of the 23-year-old slugger, who led the major leagues last year with 43 home runs.

Put Jose Canseco, who joined the Rangers late last year, in front of Gonzalez, and you get the most destructive one-two punch in the game. And it doesn't stop there.

"You've got a guy batting second [Rafael Palmeiro] who can hit 25 to 30, and the same is true of [Dean] Palmer," Henke said.

This is the team inherited by Kevin Kennedy, a former player in the Orioles minor-league system who is in his first season as a major-league manager. Kennedy came into the job with his eyes open and said the Rangers would not live by power alone, that they also would do things to create runs.

So far, that has not been the case. Although they lead the majors with 10 home runs, the Rangers are averaging fewer than four runs -- and 14 of their 19 runs are the result of home runs. If anything, the evidence suggests the Rangers won't survive on home runs alone.

The bigger question seems to be: How will the presence of Canseco affect Gonzalez?

After Canseco was obtained from the A's just before the Sept. 1 trading deadline, the two played 17 games together. Gonzalez hit .212, with two home runs in 66 at-bats, and the Rangers were 8-9 in those games.

But Gonzalez says the pairing will work to his benefit, and Canseco agrees, although he acknowledges the younger slugger could have to make adjustments. Kennedy said the two will feed off each other, maintaining a healthy rivalry that only can help the team in the long run. He even went so far as to mention the combination of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris (whose all-time home run record of 61 was set in the expansion year of 1961).

"Not because they [Gonzalez and Canseco] will hit 60 home runs," Kennedy said, "but because they will prod each other. It will be good for both of them.

"It's obvious what kind of talent Juan has," Kennedy said, "but we don't want him thinking everything is on him. We don't want him to have that pressure."

One who doesn't think that will be a problem is Dave Stewart, a former teammate of Canseco at Oakland and now with the Blue Jays. This spring, Stewart denied that the A's lineup was more potent than the one the Rangers now feature.

"There is no comparison," Stewart said. "Gonzalez is going to be a .300 hitter. Mark [McGwire of the A's] had good power numbers, but he's not going to hit for an average. When you look at it like that, there's no comparison.

"They [Gonzalez and Canseco] can destroy a lead," Stewart said. "They both have the potential to hit the ball out of this world. It's not fair to have two guys like that on a team."

Gonzalez seems to be the least concerned by the possibility that he'll get caught up in the hype, and Canseco says experience will be the best neutralizer.

"I didn't put pressure on myself [last year]," Gonzalez said. "I like being with Jose, it's going to be great together.

"To win [the home run title] as a young man [22] made me very happy," Gonzalez said. "Maybe I can win again, I don't know. I don't try to just hit home runs -- I want to win games. If I hit 25 and we win, I'll be very happy."

Having been through it before in Oakland, where he and McGwire were a formidable pair, Canseco can appreciate what Gonzalez might have to face.

"I think he might get caught up in it [the hype] a little bit," Canseco said. "That's where experience comes in -- Juan's still going through a learning process."

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