Who on earth is Kevin Kouzmanoff? He’s the guy making the absence of Adrian Beltre more than just tolerable.
Before he made the Texas Rangers’ opening day roster, Kouzmanoff hadn’t played in a Major League game since September 28, 2011, when he completed a stint with his third different team that season. That day Kouzmanoff went 3-for-5 and scored twice. He ended the season with a two-game hitting streak.
After an 0-for-3 performance against the Chicago White Sox on April 20, Kouzmanoff saw his 12-game hitting streak come to an end. But this feat likely puts him in the running for longest hit streak by days: 936. With a hit in each of his first 11 games as a Ranger, Kouzmanoff tied the team record for longest hit streak to begin a Rangers career, tying the difficult-to-remember Fred Manrique.
“Kouzmanoff comes up big for us all the time,” Ron Washington said. “When he sees something he likes, he lets that bat go.”
Kouzmanoff doesn’t have enough at-bats to qualify for the batting race yet, but if he did, his .366 average would be near the top of the American League. His performance recently earned him the distinction as AL Player of the Week.
So, again, who is this guy?
“Kouzmanoff is a professional,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “He knows how to play.”
That is Wash’s way of saying that Kouzmanoff does the little things that make him valuable to a team, even if he doesn’t play much.
At one time Kouzmanoff was an everyday player. He played three full seasons in San Diego (2007-09) and Oakland (2010). He never hit better than .275 as a rookie in 2007. He was productive, hitting at least 15 home runs and driving in at least 70 runs during that time frame. So he has some pop in his bat. But Kouzmanoff holds two claims to Major League fame — one random and one important to the Rangers.
The random? He’s the only player in Major League history to hit a grand slam on the first pitch of his first Major League at-bat. Oddly, he accomplished that against the Rangers on September 2, 2006.
The important claim to fame? Kouzmanoff’s .990 fielding percentage in 2009 set a National League record for third basemen.
Combine his great glove with his modest power at the plate and the Rangers actually felt comfortable with putting Beltre on the DL with a quad injury. Beltre could be back as early as April 25. But at least with Kouzmanoff, the Rangers don’t have to rush Beltre back.
“[Kouzmanoff] comes up big for us all the time,” Washington said. “He plays the game. He runs the bases, he plays defense, he is a smart player. He gets hits. One thing he doesn’t do is go up there and get cheated. When he sees something he likes, he lets that bat go.”
Washington said that shortly after Kouzmanoff’s solo home run in the eighth inning gave Texas a 6-3 cushion on April 19. It was his 10th RBI in the last nine games.
“I’m trying to take at-bats while I can,” Kouzmanoff told Fox Sports Southwest after the game. “I’m trying to drive runs in. Hitting in the heart of the order I feel like that’s our job.”
Washington has Kouzmanoff hitting in the No. 5 spot in the order. He’s hitting well enough to provide some protection to clean-up hitter Prince Fielder, who also homered on April 19.
So what happens when Beltre comes back? Well, he plays of course. Beltre is an MVP candidate. Kouzmanoff is a journeyman.
Rangers fans have taken to him, though, erupting into chants of “Kooooooooz” whenever he gets a hit or makes a nice defensive play. If nothing else, Kouzmanoff has played his way into a role where he could spell Beltre a day a week and then get some extra at-bats at designated hitter.
Every year we witness a Ranger that seems to come out of nowhere to have a huge season. Names like Kevin Elster, Jeff Zimmerman and Mike Napoli come to mind.
After just three weeks, Kouzmanoff feels like the 2014 edition. And the Rangers are quite grateful they have him.