Hold tight on that Moreland Express

Posted Saturday, May. 18, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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lebreton Ho-hum. Another night, another Mitch Moreland home run.

If you’re scoring along at home, that makes Mitch 10, Internet Trolls and Media Infidels 0.

Count me in that latter category, I must confess. I thought the real Mitch Moreland was the one we saw for three years and in the first three weeks of this season — a .264-hitting kind of guy, who couldn’t hit lefties and infrequently drove in an important run.

Lo and behold, with Saturday night’s homer in the Texas Rangers’ 7-2 win over the Detroit Tigers, Moreland has 18 extra-base hits and a .362 batting average since April 22. He’s getting on base. He’s driving the ball to the opposite field. He’s knocking in runs.

Who knew?

The folks at Rangers, Inc. will tell you that they knew. They’ll say that they’ve always believed in Mitch, that he always was in their first base plans, etc., etc.

But the truth is that they’re probably just as taken aback as us media heathens by Moreland’s current rampage. They’ve been shopping for a “real” first baseman, truth be told, since the latter half of 2011, when Moreland hit .241 and only five home runs. In the postseason that year, Moreland had only three hits in 29 at-bats.

Only after that World Series would somebody reveal that Moreland had a wrist injury that supposedly had been bothering him for weeks, nay months.

Are you kidding me? The 2011 Rangers went into the playoffs and World Series knowing they had a first baseman who couldn’t swing the bat?

What, there wasn’t another Jorge Cantu out there?

No problem, Mitch’s wrist will heal and he’ll be fine, the club said.

Which conveniently leaves out the fact, however, that the Rangers proceeded to double down that offseason on the Prince Fielder sweepstakes.

Just think. Fielder in a Rangers uniform (size: husky), taking aim at the home run porch for five, maybe six seasons. Moreland’s name would have been forgotten overnight.

Even after signing free-agent pitcher Yu Darvish from Japan, a $111-million investment, the Rangers were reported to be avid suitors of free agent Fielder. His courtship lingered into the third week of January, 2012.

Rangers fans will wince at the memory of this, but part of the hangup was Josh Hamilton, himself a future free agent. While the Rangers plotted their future, hoping to hedge all bets, Tigers owner Mike Ilitch came in and swept Fielder away with a nine-year, $214-million contract.

Even then, however, Moreland didn’t seize the opportunity in 2012. He batted a quiet .275 with a .789 OPS — pedestrian numbers for an American League first baseman.

For me, that’s always been the rub. While it’s not entirely fair to compare Mitch Moreland to Fielder, Albert Pujols and even Mark Teixeira, the fact is that those are the hitters he likely would have to outperform in the playoffs, especially in a lineup without Hamilton.

No problem, the Rangers said. Mitch worked for weeks in the off-season on hitting lefties. They even let the club’s other first-base options go, Mike Napoli and Michael Young.

To make room for Moreland? I don’t believe that.

Plan A, I would offer instead, was to have Ian Kinsler play first base this season, while rookie Jurickson Profar took over at second base. But when Profar didn’t force the issue with his lackluster hitting in spring training, Kinsler had to stay at second and, well, there was good ol‘ Mitch and his 50 RBIs-a-year at first base.

It makes a nice story to say that the Rangers always believed in Mitch, even back on April 20, when he was batting .157 with only four RBIs and clearly bothered by it all when he was out in the field. It makes nice fodder for Internet wiseguys to say that they always believed he would hit lefties, play like an All-Star, etc., etc. Maybe a couple of them really did.

But it’s a long season. The Rangers need to ride the Mitch Moreland Express while it’s still taking on passengers.

Be careful, though, because here are some more numbers.

.286, .366, .879.

.280, .340, .856.

.289, .344, .921.

Pretty similar, eh? Those are Mitch Moreland’s statistics on May 18 for each of the past three seasons.

It’s a long season. The folks at Rangers, Inc., still know that, I bet.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton

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