ARLINGTON, Texas -- Manager Ron Washington never considered the idea of not starting Mitch Moreland against a right-handed pitcher in the ALDS.
Despite Moreland looking lost at times at the plate in September and posting just a .167 average, Washington resisted overthinking things. He certainly has options at first. He could play Michael Young or Mike Napoli there (if he put Yorvit Torrealba behind the plate) and use his DH spot to get another left-handed bat in the lineup. But Washington doesn't like change. And he's a firm believer in allowing players to work through slumps.
Moreland, though, didn't play much down the stretch. He missed nine of the final 16 games -- some of those against lefties -- and wasn't in much of a rhythm. But Washington stressed that Moreland's time on the bench wasn't because he was struggling.
"The only reason Mitch wasn't in the lineup was that I wanted to get Nelson Cruz some at-bats at DH and ease him in," said Washington, who sat down with Moreland a few weeks ago and explained to him his plan. "I told him I believed in him and that he was going to play when it counted."
True to his word, Washington had Moreland in the lineup against James Shields on Saturday. The 26-year-old produced. He worked on not thinking about too many things and keeping it simple, and did just that in the eighth inning. With the Rangers clinging to a 7-6 lead, Moreland got the count in his favor at 2-1 and turned on a 91-mph fastball. The ball landed deep not far from where closer Neftali Feliz was warming up, giving the closer an even more relaxed feeling knowing he had more cushion. Feliz closed it out as the Rangers evened the series at a game apiece as they head to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., for Game 3 on Monday night.
It was Moreland's first homer at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington since June 21.
"I didn't even know that," Moreland said. "It doesn't matter. The past is the past. This game is going to be full of ups and downs and you can't dwell on the downs. You have to go out and keep playing and make it fun. That's what it's all about. You're not going to hit .800. I'm not really worried about it. I'm going to go out and play my game and help this team any way I can."
That includes his defense. Moreland made a big play to end the sixth inning. With Casey Kotchman at second in a 5-3 game, Moreland dove to his right, gloved the ball and calmly tossed to Alexi Ogando covering the bag. If that ball gets by, the Rays inch closer and chip away at the Rangers' momentum.
"People might say Mitch is struggling, and he might even say it, but we don't look [at] things like that. The thing that we look at is what's in here," said Michael Young, pointing to his heart. "And Mitch has got a lot of that. There's a lot of blood pumping in there. Anytime he's in the game, we expect him to go out and do big things. He's a tough kid, battles and fits the mold of this team really well. I'm sure it feels good for him to do what he did, but he's the same Mitch to us."