Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Surprise positional outlook: Right field
By Richard Durrett
We move over to right field now as our Surprise positional outlook series continues.
Today's position: Right field
Nelson Cruz had his highs -- a three-run homer in the 11th inning of Game 4 of the ALCS -- and his lows -- misjudging a fly ball in Game 6 of the World Series -- last season.
Nelson Cruz's 2011 season was a memorable one. He hit 29 homers, had 87 RBIs and batted .263 despite playing in only 124 games because of two disabled list stints (one in May for a strained right quadriceps and another in September with a strained left hamstring). The 29 home runs were the second-most of his career (33 in 2009) and it was the third straight season where he hit 20 or more homers. He averaged a homer every 16.38 at-bats, seventh-best in the league (he had five homers in his first 10 games of 2011). His RBI total was the highest of his career (78 in 2010). He also had a team-high 116 strikeouts. Cruz struggled to find consistency after returning from his first DL stint, but from July 20 through the end of the season, he hit .305.
In the field, Cruz's arm was a real weapon. He led Rangers' outfielders with six assists and was solid in right field.
All of his skills were on display in the 2011 ALCS against the Detroit Tigers. Cruz was named the series MVP after belting six homers and piling up 13 RBIs, both big league records for a postseason series. Cruz's most memorable hit was a grand slam in the 11th inning of Game 2. Cruz had tied the game in the seventh inning and then won it when he hit a 1-2 slider out to left field. The 50,000-plus at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington went crazy.
Cruz also used his arm in that series, gunning down Miguel Cabrera at home plate in the eighth inning of Game 4. The score was tied at that point. Cruz then hit a three-run homer in the 11th to put the Rangers comfortably ahead. They took a 3-1 series lead and eventually won the series in six games.
Cruz was not able to replicate his ALCS performance in the World Series. He batted just .200 (5-for-25) with two homers and three RBIs. And, of course, he was involved in the crazy ending of Game 6 after the ball tailed away from him in the right field corner, allowing the Cardinals to tie the game despite being down to their last strike.
Cruz, like the rest of the Rangers, must put 2011 behind him and move on to 2012. His focus last offseason was strengthening his legs to guard against injury. Despite that, he still had two stints on the DL. Coupled with injuries in 2010, he's been on the DL five times in the last two seasons.
But Cruz gives the lineup power and showed in 2011 he can drive in more runs. He's an integral part of the offense and is capable of big-time hot streaks.
When Cruz wasn't in right field, the versatile David Murphy started 27 games. And Mitch Moreland, who can play first base and outfield, started 28 games. With the club's current configuration, manager Ron Washington said he doesn't intend for Moreland to play much outfield this season. Newly-signed Brad Hawpe can also play out there, if he's able to do enough to make the team (more on him when we look at the bench).