Ron Washington loved to tell the story of the Texas Rangers’ 30-run game in 2007.
He drew up a batting order before that game, the first of a doubleheader at Baltimore, handed it to then-hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo and said, “That’s the kind of lineup that will get you fired.”
Washington’s replacement, Jeff Banister, would have committed a felony to get a lineup that good for Friday night’s opener of a three-game series at Safeco Field.
Of the nine players Banister started against left-hander J.A. Happ, eight were batting below .200. The Rangers were 0-3 this season against lefties, and batting a robust .186 against them.
Included in that group of struggling hitters was the one sure thing that the Rangers felt they had entering the season — Adrian Beltre at .163.
Their biggest preseason question mark, however, was the only batter who was flourishing.
Prince Fielder, the slugger who had major neck surgery 11 months ago, was the only batter not dogged by questions after 10 games, an incredibly small sample of the 2015 season.
Well, there was one question: Why no home runs? But even that doesn’t stand up when considering how good Fielder has been against pitchers who have yet to make a mistake against him.
But they’re going to mess up, and Fielder won’t miss.
The home runs are coming. Everything else has been there so far.
“I’m very pleased,” Fielder said. “It’s more about my approach and my attitude about it and just trying to get my hands ready and hit the ball. I actually know what I’m doing now.”
It’s not that Fielder forgot how to hit, but he tried to find a new way to do it when a pinched nerve in his neck caused his left arm to go dead at the point of contact. That had been happening to some extent for a few years.
With the injury came bad swing habits that Fielder had to quit in spring training. Compared to where he was on the first day of camp, he’s an entirely different hitter.
“By far a lot better,” he said. “There was no staying through the ball. I kept working on it, and I found out what I needed to do.”
More than anything, Fielder is in control at the plate. He isn’t swinging as hard as he can to compensate for the injury. Instead, he’s putting a quality swing on pitches that have been either fastballs up and away or soft stuff down and in.
There hasn’t been anything middle-middle, the location pitchers dread because most waist-high pitches in the middle of the plate wind up being hit a long way.
“That will come, I guess,” Fielder said. “I’m not going to try to force it. I like getting hits more than outs.”
He’s been getting hits. He entered Friday with 16 of them, tied for the American League lead, and was tied for the major league lead with six multi-hit games. His .400 average was sixth in the AL.
He was 5-for-7 with runners in scoring position. The rest of the team was 10-for-68.
Fielder’s first at-bat Friday was a double down the left-field line that scored Leonys Martin from first base.
“As far as me being a run producer and hitting with men in scoring position, that’s really what I’m focusing on,” Fielder said. “That’s what it’s really about.”
Now, the Rangers just need to get some players on base in front of Fielder. Leadoff man Martin (.143) and whoever has batted second — it was Elvis Andrus (.167) on Friday — aren’t doing their job, but no one besides Fielder is.
Banister isn’t worried about the lineup. As all struggling teams say this time of year, it’s early. Things are going to even out.
“We have some good hitters in the clubhouse,” said Banister, who is thrilled with Fielder even though he had yet to go deep. “He’s ready and capable when there’s a mistake thrown. I’m not complaining about the lack of home runs.”
It’s just a matter of time until they do come for Fielder. Everything else has been there so far.
“I’m not complaining,” he said. “I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing.”
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760