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To make the postseason, the Rangers will need a Duran/Smith push at a crucial time

To make the postseason, the Rangers will need a Duran/Smith push at a crucial time

The Rangers are on the outside looking in on the postseason at the moment. After a miserable few weeks, Texas is in an “all-hands-on-deck” mode, which includes everyone on the roster. While Josh Jung is progressing, and the hope is he gets back on the field before the season ends, eyes are focused on the utility guys, Josh Smith and Ezequiel Duran, to continue filling the void, something they’ve done all year.

In 2023, there have been three separate spans where both Duran and Smith have taken the reigns in the infield. Let’s start with April 12th, when Corey Seager went down with a hamstring injury. Duran got twice as many plate appearances as Smith did, but both accomplished the same goal: getting on base. In 115 plate appearances, Duran slugged .532 (2nd on the team during that span) with an OPS near .870. Smith, meanwhile, had an OBP of .348 despite a .218 average (it helps when you’re hit by five pitches in a month).

“Zeke is going to bring more impact where Josh Smith is going to bring a lot of plate discipline, on base, and really put you a dependable at-bat together for you,” Rangers hitting coach Tim Hyers told me when describing the two.

Now let’s go to the second time Seager went to the injured list (thumb sprain). During those two weeks, Ezequiel Duran struggled with an OPS of .512 and an average of .194. He started chasing a lot as the league adjusted to him, but Josh Smith stepped up in his limited work. In 14 plate appearances, Smith walked three times, and while the slugging wasn’t high-class, he came just under the 1.000 OPS mark in his six games played while Corey was out.

Now we get to early August. Josh Jung fractured his left thumb and has been out for the past month. Since then, it’s been a struggle for Josh Smith, hitting .111 with an on-base percentage under .200. Duran’s getting on base, but the slugging hasn’t quite reached his mark (.322). It’s been noticeable considering the struggles of the Rangers’ offense the past month, and I asked Hyers if both are trying too hard to replicate the guy they’re replacing, Josh Jung.

“I think [Duran and Smith] probably fell in that trap some,” Hyers said. “But I think now, this part of the year and what they’ve been doing, they’ve fell into that routine and understand their expectation.”

The struggles of both players can stem from multiple things, but one factor for each stands out. For Ezequiel Duran, it’s about adjustment. “The league adjusts to you, and you have to adjust back to the league, and I think that’s where he’s at right now. [Duran] kind of lost his swings a little, but he’s worked on that the last couple of days. He’s learning and navigating his way as a young player in this league, and I think he’s going to be phenomenal,” Hyers said.

For Josh Smith, it’s about getting reps. “He’s not getting everyday at-bats and is really difficult for a young guy because he doesn’t have that Rolodex getting in there, seeing pitchers, and going from memory,” Hyers said. I asked Josh about the difficulty in staying prepared and waiting to get your name called. “Go stay locked in whatever the opportunity is. You just have to be ready,” Josh said. He told me that he has his own routine to stay ready and takes it one day at a time, a mindset other utility guys in the past have taken.

On the defensive side, both Duran and Smith have done a decent job as fill-ins wherever they need to go, outside of that one three-error game Duran had in August. “Obviously, Josh [Jung] is playing a high level of defense [and] you don’t really replace that, but I think for the most part, they’ve made the plays they’re supposed to make. I think they’ve been efficient defensively,” Rangers third base coach Tony Beasley said.

Look, you can utilize several defensive metrics, and all of them say the same thing: Duran and Smith will not be Corey Seager or Josh Jung, but the key is making the basic plays. Duran has been better at shortstop than third base, while it’s been the opposite for Smith, who thrived at third base. “That’s their role. They know that. They play all the fields, so they understand that going into it, so that’s just a part of what they have to do,” Beasley said when I asked them about the uncertainty of where both Duran and Smith will play.

The Rangers begin a four-game series against the Blue Jays in Toronto, and Texas will need everyone to step up if the Rangers want to play past the first weekend in October. While the hope is getting Jung back soon, he’s not coming back in this series. Therefore, it’ll be up to guys like Duran and Smith to be ready whenever Rangers skipper Bruce Bochy calls their names.

Credentialed Media Staff Writer covering the Texas Rangers for Dallas Sports Fanatic | 2014 University of North Texas graduate with a Bachelor's in Radio, Television, and Film. I talk about things. Find me on the tweeter @aplinckTX

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