March 14, 2013

Craig Gentry pushing for everyday job in center field

The Texas Rangers’ battle for center field remains a two-horse race between Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin.

He batted .304, played great defense and provided elite speed on the base paths.

It’s safe to say Craig Gentry arrived last season, showing he belonged in the big leagues. Now, the question is whether Gentry is simply a platoon outfielder who can provide speed off the bench or is an everyday player.

And, at 29, Gentry is getting a chance to prove he can be the everyday center fielder, but he might be the underdog despite his solid season.

The Texas Rangers have more invested in Gentry’s main competition, Leonys Martin, who signed a five-year, $15.6 million contract May 4, 2011. And some within the Rangers’ organization question whether Gentry would be exposed offensively in an everyday role.

Does Gentry agree with the underdog label for the everyday job?

“That’s something out of my control, I can’t worry about stuff like that,” Gentry said. “I feel good about my spring. I feel I had a really good year last year, so I’m going to try and keep building on that. I’ve got to worry about myself.”

So far, Gentry and Martin are both enjoying successful springs. A favorite has yet to emerge, though.

Gentry is batting .300, has struck out only twice in 30 at-bats and is a perfect 5-for-5 on stolen base attempts. He is also the more polished defender and astute base runner of the two.

Martin, though, has been even more impressive at the plate, batting .400 with four extra-base hits and seven RBIs.

“No one has taken the lead,” manager Ron Washington said. “They’re all doing well, still competing.”

The likely scenario, if Gentry and Martin stay at their pace, is to go with a platoon in center field. Gentry, a right-handed batter, would start against left-handed pitchers, while Martin, a left-handed batter, would start against right-handers.

But Gentry is pushing hard for that coveted everyday job. He is coming off his best season and wants to show he can handle it.

“The more I got to play last year, the better I did,” Gentry said. “If I can get a chance to get in there and get repetition offensively, then I definitely feel good about my chances of doing well.

“I worked my tail off to get to where I am and I feel like over the past couple of years I have done a good job of establishing myself here.”

Gentry has also established himself as a mini-celebrity in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, whether he meant to or not. A segment of Rangers fans have dubbed him “Kitten Face,” with T-shirts that Gentry wears occasionally.

Gentry doesn’t know how that nickname originated but believes his play on the field has gotten him more recognition from fans.

“I really don’t know how I am viewed because I’m not on Twitter or Facebook, but fans appreciate players who work hard and play the game the right way,” Gentry said. “That’s how I approach it every day. I’m going to run every ball out and I’m going to hustle and give everything I have.”

Gentry had a solid season last year by most standards, especially with a high average (.304) but had only 26 RBIs in 240 at-bats. But Gentry has spent the off-season and spring working on driving the ball more.

And he has shown glimpses of more power this spring.

Gentry is tied for the team-lead with two home runs and has five RBIs in 30 at-bats. The Rangers and Gentry know he won’t be a 25-homer threat, but he does have potential to connect every now and then.

“We’re not asking him to hit home runs, but we’re all in the business of maximizing everybody’s talent,” hitting coach Dave Magadan said. “It’s just another weapon he has, so why not try to expose it? If we can pop a few balls out of the park when somebody makes a mistake, that’s great.”

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