Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Key to Shakeup is Brad Wilkerson, not Jason Botts

Brad Wilkerson, demoted to the No. 7 hole in the Rangers batting order after a slow start, has battled his way out of manager Bucky Showalter's dog house. Wilkerson has raised his average almost 100 points by hitting .328 with a homer every 11 at-bats since the end of April. Look for Wilkerson to move up in the batting order as Showalter makes room for rookie 1B/DH Jason Botts, who has been called up from the minors. Showalter likely will move Wilkerson to the No. 2 hole, followed by Michael Young to No. 3 and Mark Teixeira to cleanup. Teixeira would be backed up by Hank Blalock and Kevin Mench, perhaps with the right-hitting Mench alternating at No. 5 versus lefties. The decision to play Phil Nevin, 37, at cleanup this year was reminiscent of Showalter's puzzling choice of aging veteran Brad Fullmer, 34, and his .233 average to bat cleanup for half a season in 2004. Expect Nevin finally to lose playing time as Showalter appears to be the last to discover that his skills are seriously eroded. Nevin's average this season fell to .226 after he went hitless in his last 14 at-bats, and was hitting just .145 with no homers since the end of April. He hit just .185 in 99 at-bats last year after coming over from San Diego. Nevin is even having trouble hitting certain lefties now despite his righthanded power stroke. The 6-foot-five Botts, like Teixeira a switch-hitter, was batting .318 with 10 homers for the AAA Oklahoma Drillers, but probably will have trouble convincing Showalter to give him every day playing time as Showalter obviously prefers broken down veterans.