By Bucky Dent, The Sports Xchange
ST. LOUIS -- Although his team-high 13 homers for the year and his six homers in June suggest otherwise, Texas Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor doesn't like to think of himself as a power hitter.
Manager Jeff Banister concurs.
"Let's call him a good hitter who hits the ball out of the ballpark occasionally," Banister said.
Odor will take aim on the Busch Stadium fences Saturday when Texas tries to hand the St. Louis Cardinals their fourth straight defeat to American League West opposition in the middle game of the teams' weekend series.
Odor's latest long-ball exploits accounted for Friday night's only offense. Leading off the fifth inning, he ambushed a first-pitch fastball from Michael Wacha 433 feet over the wall in center field to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead that Cole Hamels and two relievers protected.
While an eight-game suspension for punching Toronto's Jose Bautista last month might cloud some casual fans' opinion of Odor, there's no doubt his offensive and defensive skills have been critical to Texas' 43-25 record and 6 1/2-game lead in the AL West.
Odor finished off Friday night's win with a spectacular play, leaping to take away a potential double from Jhonny Peralta and help closer Sam Dyson nail down his 12th save.
St. Louis manager Mike Matheny certainly noticed the defense of Odor and shortstop Elvis Andrus, who combined for a slick double play in the first inning and ranged far to the backhand side to take away a pair of potential hits.
"They made plays, there's no doubt about it," Matheny said. "They're a strong defensive team and very athletic all the way around. They're a group of guys who have been able to do it for a little while now."
The Rangers' defense might get a test with reliever Nick Martinez (1-1, 3.38) taking a spot start. Martinez, who pitched two scoreless innings Wednesday night in Oakland and earned a win when Texas erased a 5-0 deficit against Athletics ace Sonny Gray, will make his first start since Aug. 12, 2015 in Minnesota.
Martinez is certainly no stranger to the role, as he started 45 games over the last two years, second only to Colby Lewis' 62 on the staff. But a 12-18 record and 4.51 earned run average suggest Martinez hasn't always taken well to the assignment.
Topping the two-Martinez matinee is Cardinals right-hander Carlos Martinez, who is 7-5 with a 3.46 ERA. It's been a streaky season for Martinez, who won his first four starts, dropped the next five and won the last three.
In a 5-1 win June 11 at Pittsburgh, Martinez came within two outs of his first major-league complete game, firing a career-high 122 pitches.
St. Louis (35-31) is 0-3 on its five-game homestand, scoring just three runs total. It could look for a spark from second baseman Kolten Wong, who was recalled Friday from Triple-A Memphis and might earn a start in center field.
A center-fielder during his freshman year at the University of Hawaii, Wong played three errorless games there in Memphis. With Randal Grichuk's average down to .206, the door is open for Wong.