Texas Rangers: Jose Molina
Only the New York Yankees have committed fewer errors than the Rangers. Last season, Texas finished 26th in fielding percentage.
David Murphy's great back-to-back plays in the seventh inning is a perfect example of how far this team has come in a year.
Murphy got a quick jump off an Elliot Johnson liner to make a running catch in full stride. He had another crowd-pleaser on the next play when he collided with the the left field wall off a Jose Molina rip.
Murphy said he spent spring training working on getting a good first step.
"Plays like that, it's not like in the past I've been incapable of making," Murphy said, "but I haven't given myself the opportunity because I haven't gotten consistent jumps like I needed to over the past few years."
So far, it has been the little things that have helped the Texas defense. For Murphy, it was just how he balances.
"Before, I was at a point where I wasn't as balanced as I could have been when the ball was crossing through the strike zone," he said. "I wasn't off and running with the ball the second it left the bat. Now I feel like I'm doing a better job of that."
Adrian Beltre, a three-time Gold Glove winner, knows how quickly an error can hurt.
"This is our mindset. [Manager Ron Washington] emphasizes playing defense because he wants our pitching staff to throw the ball over the plate," Beltre said. "Especially at home we have to play defense, because if we have an error it can be a disaster with the wind blowing out like it was today."
Michael Young, who also has a Gold Glove in his trophy case, said the whole team is playing better defensively.
"Anyone we run out there can play defense, all the way from [Murphy] making great plays tonight, and we can bring [Alberto Gonzalez] off the bench and he's a great defender," Young said. "We have guys that are capable of doing the job defensively. It's one of the things that makes us a more complete team."
The cherry on top for Washington has been Elvis Andrus, who is now the only starting shortstop without an error. Last season, he committed 25 errors.
The Rangers currently have baseball's best team batting average, fifth-best team ERA and now they can add the second-best fielding percentage.
Anyone looking for a weakness in Arlington won't find it in the gloves.
Lewis (3-1, 3.15 ERA): The 30-year-old will be making his eighth start of the season Sunday, after starting the Rangers’ 13-inning loss to Oakland on Tuesday. In that game, Lewis pitched seven innings, giving up six hits and three earned runs, two of which came on a home run. The right hander has been better on the road than at home. He has a 2.84 ERA in away games (3.54 at home) and 31 strikeouts on the road (18 at home). Lewis has cooled off from a great April, with a 4.15 ERA in May. He’s pitched 13 innings this month and given up six earned runs. Overall, Lewis has pitched 45.2 innings this year, allowing 16 earned runs and four home runs as well as 17 walks against 49 strikeouts.
Morrow (2-3, 6.69 ERA): The 25-year old will be trying to put his last start behind him Sunday. Morrow lasted only 1.2 innings Monday, giving up three hits and six walks to allow six earned runs in a 7-6 loss to Boston. Morrow leads the American League in walks (26), but is also fifth in strikeouts (46).The right hander has had more control at home, where he has allowed only 5 walks. Morrow is 2-1 in the Rogers Centre with a 5.29 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 17 innings pitched.
Hitters: The only Blue Jays with more than two at bats against Lewis are Vernon Wells and Jose Molina. Wells is 3-9 with one home run, while Molina is 1-3 with an RBI. Several Rangers’ hitters have had a look at Morrow. Michael Young is 3-7 with a home run, three RBIs and a walk, and Vladimir Guerrero is 2-8 with two walks. Additionally, Ian Kinsler is 3-10 against the righty while David Murphy has the lowest batting average (.200) of the Rangers who have faced Morrow.
One other thing to watch (from ESPN Stats & Information): Nelson Cruz is slugging .974 (38-39) against fastballs this year compared to the league average (.458). Morrow has used his fastball for 65% of his total strikes this year.
But Molina signed a major league deal with the Toronto Blue Jays for $400,000. If he's on the roster opening day, he'll get $1 million guaranteed ($800,000 salary this season and a $1.2 million club option in 2011 that includes a $200,000 buyout.
Rod Barajas is still available. You interested?
INDIANAPOLIS -- General manager Jon Daniels didn't even have catching on his list of offseason priorities two weeks ago. But the uncertainty surrounding Jarrod Saltalamacchia's shoulder has quickly moved it near the top.
Saltalamacchia has been shut down for a month after experiencing discomfort in his surgically-repaired shoulder as he started winter ball in the Dominican Republic last week. That means Daniels and his staff are working on finding a veteran catcher to give the club insurance should Saltalamacchia not be completely ready to start the season. Taylor Teagarden will get a chance to compete for the job, but the club wants to have someone they know can handle the starting role if needed.
"It's such a critical position," Daniels said. "It impacts the pitching staff and how the game is run. We can't take any chances."
Daniels has spoken with teams and agents of various catchers and told them that in a perfect world, Saltalamacchia would be the starter.
"But we're not in a perfect world," Daniels said.
Daniels acknowledged that former Ranger Rod Barajas is one catcher the club is interested in. Jason Kendall is probably another. Manager Ron Washington likes the way Kendall plays the position, and pitching coach Mike Maddux is familiar with him from his days in Milwaukee. Kendall, 35, hit .240 with two homers and 43 RBIs in 134 games for the Brewers last season.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Late last night (or early this morning), the Washington Nationals agreed to a two-year, $5 million deal with catcher Pudge Rodriguez, according to ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney.
It means Rodriguez, who declined arbitration from the Rangers on Monday, leaves the organization for the second time. It isn't quite as hard saying goodbye the second time, but Rodriguez would have been a nice insurance option at catcher for the Rangers.
The 38-year-old gets some security with the two-year deal. It leaves the Rangers searching for a veteran catcher just in case Jarrod Saltalamacchia has another setback from shoulder surgery.
103.3 FM ESPN PODCASTS
Play Podcast Rangers GM Jon Daniels joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to tackle the tough questions after his team failed to advance to the playoffs.
Play Podcast Nolan Ryan joins Galloway and Company to discuss having Nelson Cruz back in the lineup and how the Rangers are feeling heading into their wild-card play-in game against the Rays.
Play Podcast ESPN Insider and senior MLB analyst Jim Bowden joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the wild-card race and the Rangers' chances of making the playoffs.
Play Podcast Chuck Cooperstein joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss why he feels Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish isn't an ace.
Play Podcast Elvis Andrus joins Galloway and Company to discuss the Rangers' stretch run and the morale level in their clubhouse.
Play Podcast Nolan Ryan joins Galloway and Company to discuss the latest Rangers news, including the team's struggles, Ron Washington's job security and a rumored trade with the Braves.
Play Podcast Ron Washington joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss the Rangers' dismal September, who's to blame for their September struggles and his status as the team's manager.
Play Podcast Fitzsimmons and Durrett discuss how some people are calling for the Rangers to fire manager Ron Washington.