OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 21: Kevin Kouzmanoff #6 of the Texas Rangers is congratulated by Elvis Andrus #1 (L) and manager Ron Washington #38 (R) after Kouzmanoff scored against the Oakland Athletics in the top of the eighth inning at O.co Coliseum on April 21, 2014 in Oakland, California. Kouzmanoff scored on a Donnie Murphy RBI single. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Friday is going to be a big day for the Texas Rangers as they open a three-game series in Seattle against the struggling Mariners.
That's because the rock of the club, veteran third baseman Adrian Beltre, is scheduled to return to the lineup after a stint on the 15-day disabled list with a mild quadriceps strain.
But that begs a big question. What will the Rangers do about Beltre's backup, who wasn't even on the Opening Day roster and doesn't really have a position once Beltre returns to the hot corner? Kevin Kouzmanoff had a great spring training but was relegated to the minors due to his positional inflexibility, but when Beltre went down, the choice for his replacement was obvious.
All Kouzmanoff has done since Beltre went down is hit .370 with a .408 on-base percentage and an out-of-this-world 1.039 OPS in his 12 games with the big-league club. He won AL Player of the Week honors for last week and had another big night on Monday night in Oakland.
With the way Kouzmanoff has played, it's impossible to send him back to the minors, and it's going to be very hard for Ron Washington to take his bat out of the lineup. Beltre is a better defensive third baseman than Kouzmanoff, even in Beltre's slightly declining state defensively. Kouzmanoff can't play anywhere else on the diamond.
He could be a designated hitter, taking Michael Choice's place against left-handed pitchers, but even then, you'd have to think the Rangers would want Kouzmanoff's hot bat in the lineup more than 2-3 times a week, at least while he remains hot.
The fact of the matter is, Kouzmanoff won't be this good for the entire season, and most likely it won't last much longer. There's a reason he's been a career journeyman and wasn't even in the bigs for the past two seasons. But right now, it sure is fun to watch and it's going to be a nice problem for the Rangers and Washington to navigate when Beltre returns.
If Shin-Soo Choo misses time with his ankle injury, the Rangers could put Choice in as a full-time left fielder while Choo mends, and then use Kouzmanoff as a full-time DH. Kouzmanoff could also get the start at third on days the Rangers want to rest Beltre's aging legs and let him DH.
So there you go. There are options for Kouzmanoff. None of them are fantastic if he keeps up this hot hitting. Worst-case scenario? He heads back to the bench, and that gives the Rangers a big upgraded and a trusted bat on the bench, which was one of the weaker parts of their roster.