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Saturday, October 16, 2010
Mitch Moreland boosts bottom of order

By Jeff Caplan


ARLINGTON, Texas -- Mitch Moreland had already forced Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington into the think tank regarding his platoon situation with Jorge Cantu at first base.

Washington almost gave Moreland the green light in Game 1 against CC Sabathia after going with the kid against Tampa Bay's left-handed ace David Price in the decisive Game 5 of the ALDS.

Mitch Moreland
Mitch Moreland's play in the playoffs has given him the edge at first base for the Rangers.
After Saturday's 7-2 Game 2 victory over the New York Yankees to even the ALCS, Moreland, a key contributor with two hits, an RBI, a run scored and a walk, might have ended the platoon all together when the Rangers play pivotal Game 3 at Yankee Stadium on Monday night against crafty lefty Andy Pettitte.

It is a possibility, but not a given. Moreland is still a rookie who has spent only a couple months in the big leagues. Cantu, although hitless this postseason, is a veteran and Washington likes to stick with what's worked, and that's been a Cantu-Moreland platoon.

Washington didn't address it after the game, but whatever decision he makes, he has to feel good about his budding first baseman, who is clearly the hotter hitter of the two right now, and the rookie's defense, perhaps suspect -- or at least unproven at the major-league level entering the postseason -- has been spotless.

In Saturday's critical equalizier, the native of Amory, Miss., hit ninth in the order. In his first at-bat, he sent a two-out single to center in the second inning and then came around to score on Michael Young's single for an early 3-0 Texas lead. Then with two out in the fifth, Moreland struck again, taking a 96-mph Joba Chamberlain fastball the other way to drive in a pshychologically advantageous seventh run.

"I feel really good at the plate," said Moreland, who boosted his postseason average from .250 up to .316 (6-for-19) with a 2-for-3 day. "I’ve had a few balls that didn’t fall, but that’s baseball, that’s the way it works. I’ve had a couple that did fall. I'm just going to go up there and keep grinding out at-bats and try to work the count and see a few pitches and do what I can."

Moreland's most telling at-bat, however, was his last, against lefty Boone Logan in the eighth, showing why the manager is gaining more and more trust in him. Moreland fouled off the first four pitches, all fastballs and then worked the count to 3-2. He took the final three pitches, all fastballs out of the zone for the walk, his third time on base in four plate appearances.

"I think the biggest thing was we noticed right away he's not scared of anything," Young said of the 25-year-old Moreland. "We knew he was going to have this regular rookie bumps in the road like anybody does, but he's not scared; put him right in the middle of the fire and he believes in himself."

Moreland is a 17th-round draft pick of the Rangers in 2007. He is the third member of that class on the roster, following Tommy Hunter and Julio Borbon. He's the club's third first baseman of the season, following Chris Davis, who failed to hold the position, and Justin Smoak after he was dealt to Seattle in the Cliff Lee deal.

Whether Washington believes in Moreland enough to put him in the pressure-cooker against Pettitte at Yankee Stadium remains to be seen. But a bigger part of Moreland's rise is also the emergence of the 7-8-9 spots in the order, often agonizing end to the order this season. In the playoffs, the bottom of the order has produced. Catchers Bengie Molina and Matt Treanor have consistently gotten on base. Molina had an RBI double in the second inning Saturday.

David Murphy, who started in the seventh-hole Saturday, homered and doubled in a run in consecutive innings. Murphy, Molina and Moreland combined to go 5-for-10 with a homer, two doubles and four RBIs.

"That's huge to get production from the bottom of the lineup," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "Mitch is throwing up great at-bats, he's doing an unbelievable job in the nine-hole. To be able to roll the lineup over like he does to Elvis [Andrus] and Mike is huge. Just for example, his last at-bat when he drew that walk, he's down 0-2 and he's not giving up. That's our mentality as a team and he has that mentality, and it's really nice to see."