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Sunday, September 26, 2010
Competition heats up for 1B playoff spot

By Richard Durrett



OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Rangers have a week to figure out the final few pieces of their playoff roster.

So, not unlike a spring training competition, players that are in contention for those spots were on the field for a 16-9 Rangers win that felt more like a game at Surprise Complex in March.

But one of the tougher decisions the club must make is which left-handed hitting first baseman -- Mitch Moreland or Chris Davis -- to put on the 25-man postseason roster joining the right-handed hitting Jorge Cantu.

Moreland started to make his case Sunday. After going through a recent slump -- 4-for-25 (.160) with 11 strikeouts in his last eight games before Sunday -- Moreland belted two homers in a 3-for-6 day that included a career-high 5 RBIs.

"I've been trying to work hard," Moreland said. "The last couple of days I've had off I've worked with Clint and Johnny to make sure I'm seeing the ball and put some good swings on it. I got a few pitches today and was able to barrel them up."

Moreland said he wanted to try to relax and slow things down.

"I've been pressing a little," Moreland said. "I think you'll hear that a lot the past couple of games. But today, it was a little easier to relax. We got everything out of the way and everybody was calm."

The last few weeks, Chris Davis has come on to make the competition for that first-base spot an interesting one. He was a late-inning defensive replacement for Moreland and has had solid at-bats both as a pinch-hitter and a starter. Before Sunday, he was 4-for-9 with a homer and four walks in 10 games since being recalled.

But Sunday was different. Moreland looked more like the guy that turned heads when he was called up in late July and worked his way into the lineup. And Davis struggled, going 0-for-6 with two strikeouts. He was the only Ranger in the starting linepu that didn't have at least two hits on a day when Texas hit a season-high 22 of them.

It's worth noting that this is just one game. The Rangers aren't going to make any decisions based on that (just like they wouldn't at spring training). They have to consider all parts of the game -- both pinch-hitter offensive production and glove work for close games.

"We've got a whole lot of games left," manager Ron Washington said. "We haven't made any decisions."

Washington said Moreland had a great game.

"Maybe he's back to the way he was earlier. He had good passes [with the bat] and better timing."

Other reaction and thoughts:

* The Rangers have 87 wins, matching their total from 2009. With seven games left in the regular season, they need five wins on this final homestand to reach club president Nolan Ryan's prediction of 92 victories.

* Texas went 5-5 on this 10-game road trip after winning four of the last five. They finish the season 39-42 on the road.

* RHP Colby Lewis is tuning up for the postseason. Sunday wasn't a bad way to start. He gave up one run on six hits in six innings with six strikeouts and a walk. He threw 101 pitches and 69 were strikes. He had all of his pitches working and didn't get into much trouble, scattering the hits.

"I just want to try to go out and put a quality start up and if I do that, everything kind of takes care of itself and those guys usually come through and you've done your job," Lewis said. "I want to stay in a rhythm, keep my pitch count up and get the rest that I need."

* OF Jeff Francoeur was 4-for-6 with a homer and 4 RBIs on Sunday. He is now 14-for-31 (.452) with 11 RBIs in his last eight games and is batting .385 (15-for-39) since joining the Rangers. He credits batting coach Clint Hurdle and Johnny Narron (special assignment coach) for harping on him about getting ready early.

"They want me prepared earlier, before the pitch comes and that's something I wasn't doing," Francoeur said. "It's definitely helped me. I'm seeing more pitches and am able to attack."

* LHP Clay Rapada gave up two runs on two hits in one inning on the mound and has given up runs in his last two appearances (he gave up the homer to Cliff Pennington in the seventh inning on Saturday). But Washington correctly noted that it's tough to evaluate most guys the day after a clinching game. Rapada faced four left-handed hitters during his outing and walked two of them. He did get the dangerous Jack Cust to ground out and Aki Iwamura did the same. Rapada would be a situational lefty in the playoffs and would likely not be in the game for an entire inning unless it was all left-handed hitters.

* LHP Matt Harrison is another player trying to get a spot on the postseason roster. And he struggled on Sunday. Harrison allowed five runs on three hits in two-thirds of an inning.

* Most of the regulars did not play, watching and relaxing in the dugout during the game. Michael Young and Ian Kinsler will be among those in the lineup on Monday, when the team plays in front of the hometown fans for the first time since clinching the title.