Rangers want Hamilton to be primarily a left fielder

Posted Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012  comments  Print Reprints

Five questions entering spring training

1 Yu who? The Rangers are getting their first snapshots of Yu Darvish and hope he lives up to the billing and financial commitment.

2 Contract matters: Josh Hamilton is one of several players who can become a free agent the next two years. Will new deals surface?

3 Centrally located: Julio Borbon, Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin are competing to be the center fielder. Don't forget about Hamilton, though.

4 Is Feliz indeed happy? Neftali Feliz is no longer a closer, and his transition to the rotation is as important to the Rangers as Darvish's move.

5 Leaning left: The bullpen has an opening for a left-hander, and Michael Kirkman leads a crowded field competing for the job.

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SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The past two postseasons, when every run mattered and every play had to be made, the Texas Rangers stuck Josh Hamilton in center field for almost every game.

He is their best all-around center fielder.

He is also their best player and their most injury-prone player.

Hence, each of the past two springs the Rangers have pushed Hamilton to left field, where he won't have to suffer the same physical wear and tear as he would as an everyday center fielder.

And the trend will continue today when the Rangers run through their first full-squad workout of spring training. Hamilton will be safely tucked away in left field while Craig Gentry, Julio Borbon and Leonys Martin compete for regular playing time in center field this season.

But manager Ron Washington said that Hamilton, the 2010 American League MVP, will get his fair share of playing time in center field, and it's possible only one of the other three candidates makes the Opening Day roster.

"That part I want to keep to myself right now," Washington said Saturday at the Surprise Recreation Campus. "We know he can play it, and he might be the best one. "Our hope is that we can keep him in left. That's our hope."

To fulfill that hope, the Rangers need to be convinced that they would be a better team with a platoon featuring Gentry, Borbon and Martin in some form than the Hamilton-Gentry platoon that developed last postseason.

David Murphy was the left fielder when Hamilton was in center against a right-handed pitcher.

During the regular season, though, Borbon opened as the starting center fielder before an injury led to a Gentry-Endy Chavez platoon.

"Josh played center field in the playoffs and World Series because that's the best team I had to put out there," Washington said.

The Rangers, though, have held to the belief that having Hamilton healthy over 162 games as their left fielder is part of their best outfield combination, regardless of the production they get from their center fielder.

Hamilton, meanwhile, reported to camp weighing 230 pounds rather than the 245 he has carried in the past. He returned to Pilates, which yielded positive results in 2008 and 2010, during the off-season to keep him flexible while also strengthening his core.

He shed the 15 pounds to be ready to play more in center field, even though no one from the club has told him he could play there more this season.

"The past two years I haven't come in preparing to play center field a lot," said Hamilton, who has started 59 games in center field the past two seasons. "I don't care [where he plays], but if you want me to play center, I'll play center."

Borbon, seeking his third consecutive Opening Day start in center field, might have fallen behind Gentry as the favorite.

Borbon was plagued by inconsistencies throughout his game last spring and is coming off surgery after injuring his left ankle in July while at Triple A Round Rock.

Gentry made the most of his playing time, successfully stealing a bag in all 18 of his tries and showing that he is the Rangers' best defensive outfielder.

Both say that the key for them this spring is to not change their style of play. They were teammates in the Dominican winter league over the off-season, though a minor leg injury limited Gentry while Borbon played the entire season to test his ankle.

"It's just about doing what you've always done," Borbon said. "It's just a matter of being a little more consistent."

Martin likely needs a mammoth spring to make the Opening Day roster. The Cuban defector has played only 73 minor league games and eight (one start) in the majors.

He's largely an unknown to the coaching staff.

"We don't know what we need to correct," outfield coach Gary Pettis said. "He's got to play. He's got to get as many games under his belt as he can, and in spring training it's difficult for a kid like that."

Washington wasn't ready to declare any favorites for the center field job or reveal any plans for the season on the day position players had to report for spring camp.

Hamilton, though, figures to be a significant contributor.

"We'll see how it fits," Washington said. "If it takes two like we did last year, we will use two. If one of them steps up and decides they want to man that by themselves, I'll let them man it."

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

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