ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Shin-Soo Choo changed up his swing going into this season with a modified leg kick. Maybe more significant was a return to some of the mental focus he had lost along the way.
“Every pitch, each pitch, is the last pitch of my baseball career … I think that way,” Choo said.
After a slow start to this season, Choo realized he had gotten away from what he refers to as the “sniper focus” he wants to have every time he goes to the plate for the Texas Rangers.
Choo now has a 38-game on-base streak. It is the longest of his 14-year big league career, and the second-longest this season behind a 40-gamer by Philadelphia’s Odubel Herrera.
“The physical side of it is a byproduct of him making a conscious effort to get back to who he is, what his foundation has been as a hitter, an on-base guy first,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. “When he’s doing that and he’s seeing pitches, he’s focused in more on driving the ball, that he gets to hit his pitch. He’s really good at it.”
With three singles on Monday night, including the tiebreaking RBI hit in a 7-4 win over San Diego, Choo has the longest on-base streak for Texas since Otis Nixon’s 44 games in a row in 1995. Julio Franco’s 46-gamer in 1993 is the franchise record.
Choo was hitting .239 after going 0 for 4 with three strikeouts May 12 at Houston, along with a .316 on-base percentage.
Since then, the outfielder and designated hitter has 48 hits and 37 walks in 38 games — reaching base an average of 2.2 times each game during his streak. That has raised his batting average to .285 and increased his on-base percentage 79 points.
“He sticks to his approach more than anything. He doesn’t really care who is on the mound,” said Delino DeShields, the young center fielder whose locker is next to Choo’s. “He knows himself, he’s done it for a long time. He knows when he’s getting away from that and it’s an easy adjustment for him to make.”
DeShields said Choo keeps things “really simple” and sticks to his routine.
For Choo, that includes almost always being the first player in the clubhouse — whether before sunrise at spring training or around lunchtime before night games during the season.
Banister remembers showing up at the team’s complex around 5 a.m. one day early during the manager’s first spring with the team in 2015. Choo was already there.
“Next few days we got there at the same time and then one day I got up earlier for some reason and beat him to the ballpark,” Banister said. “I didn’t beat him to the ballpark the next day.”
Choo, in his fifth season with Texas after playing for Seattle, Cleveland and Cincinnati, is also tidy. The two stalls he occupies in the home clubhouse are organized, including the array of batting gloves stacked neatly and organized by color. He knows where everything is because it all has a specific spot — and says it’s the same at his house.
“He’s real particular,” DeShields said. “He packs his own bag. … He always looks nice. It’s just how he is. He’s a professional. Whatever you define a professional to be, that’s him.”
Choo will turn 36 on July 13, four days before the All-Star Game. He has never been an All-Star before but is a strong candidate to represent the Rangers as a first-timer.
Banister said Choo certainly has played to a level to be considered for the American League squad in Washington next month.
“This is a great teammate. He really is. This is a guy who cares about every player in that locker room. He cares about the game. A lot,” Banister said. “The respect for the game of baseball, how it’s played, the look of it, the players, the style of play, the way you should play the game.”