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Saturday, May 24, 2014
Expect 'juggling' lineups as Choo leads off

By Richard Durrett

DETROIT -- The reverberations of Prince Fielder's herniated disk in his neck are still being felt inside the visiting manager's office at Comerica Park, where Ron Washington has no choice but to mix and match with his lineup until he finds something that works.

Washington has had the luxury in previous seasons of knowing nearly every day what that lineup would look like, barring minor changes. He liked to have his guys in the same place as often as he could, even as fans and critics sometimes begged for changes. But that's not the case anymore. A lineup decimated by injuries has left Washington to experiment with the order, hoping to locate the most productive one. Take Fielder out of the middle of it and there's a huge void, one that isn't simply filled with one change.

So on Saturday, the skipper moved Shin-Soo Choo back to the top of the lineup. It wasn't that Choo was struggling as the No. 3 hitter -- he was 7-for-21 with a better on-base percentage and slugging percentage in his six games there as he was in his 36 at leadoff -- but Washington felt Choo was having better at-bats in the top spot in the lineup and that the entire order might be better with Choo on top of it and Mitch Moreland moving to third.

"I want to get Choo back to where he's comfortable and see how Mitch handles the 3-hole," Washington said. "Mitch is swinging the bat well. I hope it can continue. I'm just juggling."

That "juggling" will likely continue for a while.

Washington said he felt there was "uncertainty" in Choo's at-bats in the third spot. And he wanted Choo setting the tone for his offense at leadoff, something the veteran has done well this season.

"He makes the pitcher work, which is what a leadoff guy is supposed to do," Washington said. "He can hit with two strikes, which is what a leadoff guy is supposed to do. He can get you one run with one swing of the bat, which you hope you have that kind of guy in the leadoff spot. But more than anything else, I think he forces pitchers to show what they have or what they don't have because he's not chasing.

"To use his quote, he said he's very aggressive, but only on strikes."

Moreland is batting .277 this season and is hitting .306 in his last 23 games. He drove in both Rangers runs in Friday's 7-2 loss with a two-run double in the second.

Washington tried Leonys Martin in the leadoff spot, but after three straight strikeouts and some struggling at-bats, opted to move him back down.

"Right now, he hasn't gotten to the point in his career where he's disciplined," Washington said. "He's still learning how to hit with two strikes. He's an aggressive guy and when you try to take that away from him, you lose who Martin is. You never know what the future is going to hold, but right now I'll shoot him up there now and then. But he's a slasher."

Don't be surprised if you see a different lineup again Sunday. Washington must use this time to discover how to slot his ever-changing lineup. He doesn't have any other choice.