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Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Is first base destined for a platoon?

By Jeff Caplan

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Southpaw first baseman Mitch Moreland is working toward becoming the Texas Rangers' every day first baseman, and that means convincing manager Ron Washington that a platoon is simply unnecessary.

The Rangers acquired right-hand-hitting Mike Napoli to bat against left-handers, which he does quite well, and he has experience at first. Micheal Young is also expected to play some at first. Moreland performed well for the Rangers last season after Chris Davis couldn't get the job done and Justin Smoak was dealt to Seattle.

Moreland took off during the postseason, playing strong defense and batting .348 overall and a whopping .462 in the World Series when all other bats went silent. As the club broke for a short offseason, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said first base was Moreland's job to lose.

"The postseason definitely gave me some confidence going into the offseason," Moreland said. "I got to where I was playing day in and day out. You can get comfortable when you’re doing that. You don’t have to sit a couple days and then play. Sometimes that can take a toll on you. You get in there day in and day out and you know I’ve got to go out there today and do my job knowing I can go do it tomorrow."

It beats platooning, which Rangers manager Ron Washington did in the regular season -- using Jorge Cantu against lefties -- and planned to do in the postseason. That is until Cantu didn't produce in Game 1 of the American League Division Series against Tampa Bay. Cantu was in the lineup against hard-throwing lefty David Price, but continued to slump.

Washington could no longer ignore how well Moreland was playing in the field and he stuck with him for Game 5 of the ALDS against Price. Moreland went 1-for-4 in the clincher and didn't sit in another postseason game while continually raising his average -- against righties and lefties.

"It’s definitely a possibility," Moreland said of a platoon situation in 2011. "We have the same team goal, that's to get back where we were, whether it’s me playing first or Mike playing first or Napoli at first. Either way, we’re going to go out and do one thing and that’s try to win a ballgame. If I’m out there I’m going to do whatever I can to help us win."

Last season as a rookie, Moreland hit just .200 against lefties and .264 against righties. He played in only 47 games so it's not as though he has a large sample size to draw conclusions. In Tuesday's game against Seattle, Moreland was 0-for-2 with groundouts against lefty Nate Robertson and former Rangers prospect, righty Blake Beavan.

"I think he's a good hitter," Washington said. "But, we have a lot of versatility on our team and we've got to use it."

Meanwhile, Napoli, who did not play Monday and is 3-for-6 with a home run in the first two games, has a five-year track record of tagging lefties. He's a career .289 hitter against southpaws and just .238 against righties.

Last season with the Angels, Napoli took it to more of an extreme, hitting .305 against lefties and .208 against righties.

With a right-handed stick that pokes lefties at that kind of rate, it's easy to see why Washington will have thoughts to platoon.

"I'm going to try to put the best lineup out there every day,"Washington said. "If there's a tough lefty and I don't want to expose Moreland to it, Napoli will get that at-bat."