Lefty-heavy Rangers’ lineup knows it must produce

Posted Monday, Apr. 22, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Given the construction of the roster and some of the numbers posted so far, it would seem that the Texas Rangers would be 1-4 in five games against left-handed pitchers this season. Or worse.

Their batting order at times has had as many as four straight lefty hitters at the bottom of it. The guys at the top of the lineup entered Monday hitting .167 and .071 against lefties, and No. 3 hitter Lance Berkman is considered far better from the right side.

Jason Vargas, scheduled to pitch Tuesday against the Rangers, should be feeling pretty good about things if not for the biggest number of all:

Despite their apparent disadvantages, the Rangers are 4-1 when a lefty starts against them, and one of those wins came in a Vargas start in the home opener. But if the success is going to continue, something is going to have to give.

Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus will see their averages pick up against lefties. The key is how A.J. Pierzynski, David Murphy, Mitch Moreland and, on occasion, Leonys Martin, fare in lefty-vs.-lefty matchups.

They’re all going to play against lefties, and that includes Tuesday against Vargas at Angel Stadium.

“They’re going to get their share of lefties,” manager Ron Washington said. “I think they’ve been having some good at-bats against lefties. I think the situation will dictate if I let them bat. It just depends on how dire I think the situation is.”

The situation, though, has already changed as Jeff Baker will likely start Tuesday for either Murphy or Moreland. The right-handed-hitting utility man has started the past three games against lefties, and is hitting .400 (4 for 10) early on against them.

Baker is also a .297 career hitter against lefties with a .503 slugging percentage.

“He’s always been able to handle left-handers,” Washington said. “It’s not Murphy or Moreland. He deserves to get some at-bats, so I’ve got to try to find them where I can find them.”

Pierzynski, as the everyday catcher, is going to play no matter who is pitching, and he is hitting .292 against lefties this season and .259 for his career.

Murphy could sit Tuesday. He’s 1 for 19 in his career against Vargas and was hitting .222 (4 for 18) against lefties this season entering the opener late Monday against Anaheim.

But that was 70 points better than he had fared against righties.

“I honestly think I feel better against lefties right now,” he said. “That’s the case at certain points throughout the course of a season. Right now, I don’t care if it’s a lefty or a righty. I just want to have some good at-bats and start seeing some results.”

The same goes for Moreland, who was 1 for 18 this season but has hit into some tough luck. He had two hits against a lefty taken away from him April 16 at Chicago on diving catches, and the ball he hit best became a slicing lineout to left field.

The work he did in the off-season, including having a lefty throw to him multiple times a week, is paying off. The numbers just aren’t there.

“That’s kind of the way the game goes sometimes,” said Moreland, a career .215 hitter against lefties. “I’m happy with where I am and with the at-bats I’ve been having. This is a long season. It could change in two games.”

But the lefty hitters recognize that they have to produce, especially when bunched together. Take a sequence last week against the Cubs, who brought in their only left-handed reliever to face Murphy, Moreland and Martin.

They were retired in order.

“We understand that’s part of the scenario,” said Murphy, who has a .265 career average against lefties. “We understand how it would be easy for a team with a bunch of lefties in their bullpen to bring them in late in a game when they face that part of our lineup.

“But our team was put together for a reason. They make out the lineup every day understanding that’s a possibility. Sometimes it’s going to work. Sometimes it’s not.”

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @JeffWilson

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