Every year, on three occasions, each American League team has a player who gets the short end of the playing-time stick when interleague road games pop up on the schedule.
That’s the bane of being a designated hitter, as Mitch Moreland learned again Tuesday against Colorado. But the left-handed hitter has it even worse as a platoon player on a team that has run into a stretch heavy with lefty pitchers.
Moreland had started one of the Rangers’ past five games, sitting against two lefties at Angel Stadium and the two games at Coors Field.
The Rockies are scheduled to throw lefties Wednesday and Thursday at Globe Life Park.
Though manager Ron Washington is considering throwing him a lifeline, Moreland is trying to keep the rust from gathering on his swing. That’s no small task.
“It’s a challenge,” Moreland said. “As far as staying sharp, it’s definitely easier to stay sharp when you’re in there. But you’ve got to keep working, and when my number’s called, I’ve got to be ready.”
Moreland’s number is 18, for those who might have forgotten. Washington hasn’t forgotten as he continues his search for lineup help. In fact, Washington has missed having Moreland in the lineup.
Washington, though, isn’t going to take first baseman Prince Fielder out of the lineup just to get Moreland a game, nor will Washington sit corner outfielders Shin-Soo Choo or Alex Rios.
He is capable of doing damage, as a career-high 23 homers in 2013 would suggest.
Moreland has only one so far this season, nearly a month ago on April 9 at Boston, but in a lineup that lacks regular power, he might be able to provide a lift.
Even against a lefty, which Washington is considering even though it could cost the right-handed-hitting Michael Choice at-bats.
“Believe me, it bothers me that I can’t get Mitch out there,” Washington said. “I would certainly love to have his bat in the lineup. I wish he could play base. You don’t think I’m hurting without his bat in the lineup? Damn right I’m hurting.”
Moreland hasn’t been entirely inactive during this stretch. He had collected pinch hits in two of the past three games, and had a hit in each of his past four pinch-hit tries.
After collecting a single in the eighth inning Tuesday, he stayed in the game to pitch and retired the side in order on 15 pitches. It was his first major league appearance on the mound and his first time since logging two innings in 2008 at Class A Clinton. He was a former closer at Mississippi State.
Collecting a pinch hit isn’t easy, Washington said, but the principals of a successful at-bat are the same as trying to stave off rust from being inactive.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve figured anything out,” Moreland said. “I’m just trying to go up there and make something happen. I’ve just tried to keep a mindset of trying to get up there and grind out at-bats.”
When Moreland has played, he has been more consistent than he was last season as a .183 hitter after the All-Star break. He was batting .274 with 11 RBIs and was batting .348 in his past 10 games.
Like any part-time player, Moreland yearns to be a lineup regular.
“I absolutely want to play every day,” he said. “But it’s one of those things where it takes 25 guys to win a championship.”
Washington, who spent much of his career as a bench player, understands what Moreland is going through. But he’s not alone.
“I know it’s tough, especially under National League rules and the two guys in the outfield and the one guy in the infield where he plays have to play,” Washington said. “You just have to be available for the opportunity as it presents itself to you. But he’s not the only one doing it.”