Saturday, May 26, 2012
Sizzling Mitch Moreland left out again
By Tim MacMahon
ARLINGTON, Texas -- With all due respect to Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz, the hottest hitter in the Texas Rangers' lineup isn't a household name.
It's a dude who bats at the bottom of the order and doesn't face lefties, as long as his manager can help it, at least.
Yep, we're talking about Mitch Moreland, the man who has batted .392 with seven homers in 74 at-bats over the last month.
"He's locked in," said manager Ron Washington, who praised Moreland for improving his pitch selection since his slow start.
Of course, Moreland has done virtually all his damage against right-handers. And that success hasn't given his skipper any confidence that Moreland can hit lefties.
That was made crystal clear once again in the 10th inning Saturday afternoon, when Washington responded to lefty Darren Oliver coming out of the Blue Jays' bullpen by pinch-hitting for Moreland with slumping, sick Mike Napoli.
"Righty against a lefty," Washington said, explaining his reasoning as plain and simple as possible. "One swing of the bat and Nap can make a difference. I know Nap is struggling, but still, one swing of the bat and he can make a difference. I just took a chance to do it with a veteran and there he is."
To say is struggling is like saying it gets warm around these parts in the summer. Napoli, who struck out against Oliver in the 10th and flew out against him in the 12th, is in a 3-for-25 slump with 16 strikeouts during that skid.
Napoli has a proven track record as a terror against lefties, hitting .316 with 25 homers in 348 at-bats against them in the previous three seasons. This season? Not so much: He's 9-for-51 (.176) against southpaws.
Sure, that's better than Moreland, who is hitting .167 against lefties this season. But that's from a puny sample size of 18 at-bats.
Sure, Moreland has struggled against lefties throughout his young career (.221 in 149 at-bats). But the 26-year-old is in his best groove since at least the 2010 postseason, when his three-run homer off a lefty was the key play in the Rangers' only World Series win over the Giants.
So, not to sound like the president of the Mitch Moreland fan club, but what's the guy got to go to get some legitimate chances against lefties?
"You certainly do sound like his fan club president," Washington said.
Translation: Moreland is pretty much a platoon player for the foreseeable future.
That was obvious when Washington brought Brandon Snyder off the bench as a pinch-hitter against a Royals lefty reliever last week after Moreland homered in his previous two at-bats. The point was hammered home Saturday afternoon when Moreland was pulled after going 3-for-4 with his fifth homer in 12 games, bumping his average to .309.
"That was the manager's move," Moreland said. "He felt comfortable with that, so you've got to respect him. He's the boss. He's the captain of this ship, you know what I'm saying?"
Moreland would love a legitimate chance to prove he can hit lefties, but he's not about to rock the boat in the Rangers' harmonious clubhouse. He'll just try to keep raking against righties and be ready if Washington's gut ever gives him another shot against a southpaw.