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Ron Washington Hits the Ground Running



    There were a lot of heroes in the Rangers' season-opening sweep of the Red Sox.

    You had Ian Kinsler leading off each of the first two games of the season with home runs, the first time that's ever happened in baseball history. Kinsler added another homer in game three and Nelson Cruz also went deep in each game, giving them another record as the only pair of teammates to pull off that particular feat.

    On top of that, Matt Harrison tossed a gem on Sunday that should momentarily quiet those who believed pitching disaster is right around the corner. It's the kind of game that one normally looks at with a skeptical eye -- can he really do this consistently -- but we're buying into it thanks to the work of one of the unsung heroes of the weekend.

    Ron Washington's run as Rangers manager has been a mostly successful one, but it hasn't been marked by too many people hailing him as a strategic genius. He's seen much more as a guy who is good in the clubhouse and respected in the clubhouse than as an heir to Tony La Russa as the fever dream of the George Will set.

    There's nothing wrong with that, especially since it has worked well enough to get the Rangers to the World Series for the first time. Over this weekend, though, Washington showed some skills that usually don't figure into the winning recipe for the Rangers.

    On Friday, he won early with his decision to start Julio Borbon. Yes, Borbon made an error, but if he is on the team he needs to be starting in center field. Washington was also wise enough to know that his team needs to be flexible enough to play to its strengths so when Daniel Bard came in for the Sox, he went to David Murphy and Murphy produced the game-winning hit.

    He also pulled C.J. Wilson at the right time and gave Mark Lowe a shot in a key sixth inning spot. Lowe passed and his confidence likely went up as a result.

    Giving players a chance was a theme throughout the weekend. Outside of David Bush and the fourth and fifth starting pitchers, every Rangers player got action in the opening weekend. For a team without much depth and without much order in the bullpen at present, that's a strong move.

    But it was Harrison who benefited the most from Washington's manuevering. In the seventh inning Sunday, Harrison ran into trouble for the first time all day. Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz got on base, setting up Carl Crawford for a run-scoring single that made the score 3-1. There was double barrelled action in the pen and the game was on the line with a pitcher who doesn't have much history of weathering storms.

    But Washington stuck with him and it paid off. Harrison sandwiched two strikeouts around a walk and got out of the inning without any other injury.

    It's a dangerous move and one that opens Washington up to much criticism if Harrison doesn't do his job. It is also one that is designed to build confidence in a young pitcher at a point in the season when a loss isn't anything that will make you cry your eyes out. He has the job security to ignore the downside and focus on the upside, but there are plenty of managers who wouldn't act that way.

    Washington had a very good weekend and it bodes well for the season to come.