By STEPHEN HAWKINS AP Baseball Writer
Elvis Andrus was once that kid for the Texas Rangers, the 20-year-old shortstop whose big league debut forced one of the franchise’s most popular players to change positions.
Andrus is now 32, and his 12th season is done because of lingering lower back issues. That has raised questions about his future as shortstop of the Rangers, at a time when they are taking an extended look at so many of their young players.
“I have done it, and I have more experience. If I get my body 100%, I’m there. I have no limitations in my mind that I can still be a productive player,” Andrus said. “I know there is a lot left in my tank and I am not done. I know a lot of people want to see me go away, but not yet.”
The longest-tenured Texas player, and the only one remaining from the franchise’s consecutive World Series appearances a decade ago, is still owed $28.5 million over the next two seasons. But he has to be healthy, and better at the plate.
When asked if he saw Andrus as the starting shortstop for Texas next season, manager Chris Woodward responded that he didn’t know.
“I love what Elvis has done in his career. I guess we’ll have to see. He has to be healthy, he has to feel good,” Woodward said. “I would love that, if he came in ready to play and playing well. … That’s more up to him.”
Andrus was placed on the injured list for the second time this year between games of a doubleheader, after playing the first game Saturday. Sherten Apostel then got called up and became the eighth different player — the fourth position player 22 or younger — to make his big league debut with the Rangers in this abbreviated season. Another is 22-year-old shortstop Anderson Tejeda, though he never played above Class A before this season.
In his 29 games this year, Andrus hit .194 with three home runs and had a .969 fielding percentage that was his lowest in 10 seasons. All three homers came in his eight games after coming off his first stay on the injured list Sept. 1.
While he has dealt with lower back issues throughout his career, Andrus said “it got worse and worse” and was a different pain this year. That will now be treated with injections instead of surgery. He described inflammation in a tendon that would cause pain throughout his back.
“It’s just one thing causing another thing, another thing causing another thing. … And it is noticeable this year especially, the way I was playing. I look a lot slower,” he said. “It takes the whole game away. And that’s what it’s been like for me this year. I haven’t been able to concentrate just on the game, I (also) have to concentrate on being able to play nine innings. And I’m too young to think that way right now.”
When Andrus made his big league debut at the start of 2009, the Rangers moved Michael Young — then 32 himself — to third base after he had been an All-Star shortstop the previous five seasons. Young is still the team’s career leader and Andrus is second on the list for games played, at-bats and triples. Young is also the career leader for hits and runs, with Andrus third in both those categories.
Young was a full-time third baseman for only one season, in 2010 when the Rangers went to their first World Series before acquiring Adrian Beltre. Young was the designated hitter and played all four infield positions in 2011 when Texas won another American League pennant.
Andrus said “for sure” he’s still a starting shortstop, and he wants to keep playing and retire with the Rangers.
“I have done that my whole career. I think I’ve earned that,” he said. “No doubt I am an everyday player right now.”
But what about a position change for Andrus?
“That could be a possibility. I mean, obviously he’s athletic enough where he can play, I’m guessing, third (base) or second.” Woodward said. “If he continues to make strides with the bat and he hits, he’s going to force our hand. … He’s been around so long, there’s so much you can depend on. If he’s having quality at-bats, you can depend on the glove.”