- David Schoenfield, SweetSpot blogger
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Everyone was certainly hoping Prince Fielder would be back and healthy after last year's neck surgery. But even then, what did that mean? After all, in 2013 with the Detroit Tigers, he hit .279 with career-lows of 25 home runs and a .457 slugging percentage? That was good, but certainly not great, and certainly not vintage Prince. In fact, he appeared to be a slugger in decline, as fastballs were beating him. From 2010 to 2012, he hit .322 and slugged .561 against fastballs. In 2013, those numbers dipped to a .272 average and .439 slugging.
So what were we hoping for?
Not this. The Texas Rangers designated hitter -- he's started just one game at first base this month -- just recorded his fourth straight three-hit game in a 4-3 win over the Indians on Tuesday, the seventh in a row for Texas. Fielder is now hitting .371/.422/.597 and became just the 11th player since 2000 to record four straight three-hit games (no player has had five in a row since George Brett in 1976). He leads the major leagues in batting average and tops the American League in hits and RBIs. His May has been absolute destruction on opposing pitchers, hitting .402 with nine home runs and 28 RBIs.
How is he doing this? For starters, he's hitting the fastball again. Fielder is hitting .365 against fastballs. But he's also hitting offspeed stuff, with a .368 average and eight of his 10 home runs. Fielder has always been a patient hitter, drawing 100-plus walks and he even finished with more walks than strikeouts in his injury-shortened 2014. But it's a little different Fielder this season, as he has just 12 walks and 24 strikeouts and his pitches per plate appearance has dropped from a career average of 3.77 entering the season to 3.46. It seems like he's being a little more aggressive earlier in the count.
Indeed, his three-run home run off Danny Salazar on Tuesday came off a first-pitch slider. Check the counts on his other home runs:
0-1 changeup (Shaun Marcum)
0-0 fastball (Branden Pinder)
0-0 slider (Michael Pineda)
1-0 slider (Chasen Shreve)
0-0 slider (Bruce Chen)
1-2 curveball (Yordano Ventura)
0-0 slider (Franklin Morales)
1-0 cutter (Scott Kazmir)
1-0 changeup (Daniel Hudson)
That's five of his 10 home runs on the first pitch. In 2013, only five of his 25 home runs came on the first pitch.
So far, he's shown great plate coverage, as you can see here:
You can try to bust him up and in or maybe getting him with breaking stuff at the knees, but he's been hitting the outside pitch. That's also a change from vintage Prince. From 2010 to 2013, he hit .285/.446/.554 on pitches on the inner third of the plate (or inside) and .230/.373/.373 on the outer third. In 2015, he's hitting .329/.370/.459 on the outer third. He's still a pull hitter when it comes to power -- all of his home runs have gone to center field or right field -- but nine of his 12 doubles have gone to left field or left-center.
Maybe it's an older, wiser -- and healthier -- Fielder. We'll see how he adjusts as pitchers presumably start trying to pound him inside more often.
And the Rangers, with Mitch Moreland's eighth-inning home run off Nick Hagadone providing the winning run, are suddenly 23-23 after an 8-16 start that had them looking like perhaps one of the worst teams in baseball. The middle of the offense is clicking, with Shin-Soo Choo and Adrian Beltre both having good Mays as well after bad Aprils -- Choo is hitting .299/.356/.570 and Beltre .308/.330/.481. Moreland missed a couple weeks but is now hitting .306 with five home runs, four of those in May.
This is finally looking like the lineup that general manager Jon Daniels envisioned a year ago. Can the Rangers hang around? I have my doubts. Minus Yu Darvish, the rotation lacks an ace. No. 2 starter Derek Holland is still out with a shoulder problem. It's hard to overcome missing your top two guys, even if Nick Martinez (4-0, 1.96 ERA) and veteran retread Wandy Rodriguez (2-2, 3.60 ERA) have been decent so far in their place. Shawn Tolleson has taken over as closer and has been good, with 30 strikeouts and just two unintentional walks, but the rest of the pen has been inconsistent. The lineup still has some holes at second and shortstop, where Elvis Andrus remains in his two-year funk.
We have a long time yet to evaluate the Rangers. For now, I'm just happy that Fielder is once again doing fun things.
Texas Rangers designated hitter Prince Fielder is swinging a hot back in what has been a successful return after missing most of last season.