Game 1 of their baseball lives with Prince Fielder officially out and headed toward cervical-fusion surgery wasn’t the roaring success the Texas Rangers had wanted.
Scott Baker allowed six runs in six innings in his first start of the year.
In the bullpen, Robbie Ross was saying, “Heck, I could have done that.”
In the dugout, Joe Saunders was saying the same thing.
Fresh off a nine-run game, the offense was limited to only two runs, albeit against a much higher class of starting pitcher.
But within the 7-2 loss, there were signs that first base has a chance to not be a wasteland without a healthy Fielder. Mitch Moreland has teased with those signs before, but now he needs to be the player the Rangers have always envisioned if they expect to stay afloat.
Maybe it’s a good sign that he mildly took exception to being asked if he’s ready for regular duty, which he’s had since last weekend. But now he will get his chance against left-handers, who have relegated him to platoon duty in the past.
“It’s been more than just the past five or six days,” Moreland said. “I did it the last couple years. I’m just saying it’s nothing new to me. It’s unfortunate that we lost Prince. It’s a blow to the team, but it’s the position I’ve played for the most part since I’ve been here.”
Moreland doubled off Anibal Sanchez in his first at-bat, plating the Rangers’ only runs for a 2-0 lead in the second.
Ian Kinsler hit two of his three doubles against Baker, who quickly surrendered the lead when he allowed a two-run homer to native Texan Austin Jackson in the Tigers’ half of the inning.
The Rangers never got going after Moreland’s double, which was their third straight hit in the second. Anibal Sanchez retired 14 of the next 15 batters as the Tigers pulled away.
Moreland helped keep it close early with a nice scoop on a low throw from Elvis Andrus, saving a run in the third. Moreland’s defense isn’t in question. It’s the bat, and Moreland has a chance to get going quickly as the Rangers are due to see a steady diet of right-handers over the next 10 days.
But there will be a lefty in the bullpen waiting for Moreland in tight situations late. That’s when the career .231 hitter against portsiders will have to be different than in the past.
“I haven’t had a ton of at-bats against them this year,” said Moreland, who is 2 for 15 (.133) vs. lefties. “Without the hits, I felt like my at-bats for the most part have been solid.
“You’re going to go through ups and downs vs. lefties and righties. There’s really no difference. You’ve got to go up there and have a good, solid approach and put the bat on the ball.”
Manager Ron Washington made it perfectly clear that Moreland is the Rangers’ undisputed first baseman. He might get some days off, even though the Rangers don’t have a true backup at first base.
Right-handed hitters Robinson Chirinos and Chris Gimenez, otherwise known as the Rangers’ two catchers, and infielder Donnie Murphy, who has never played the position, could plug in at first if needed.
The next best option at Round Rock, Brett Nicholas, is also a catcher.
“I’d consider everybody,” Washington said. “We’ll make adjustments as we go along.”
Moreland, though, is Washington’s guy, and he doesn’t want to heap any unrealistic expectations upon Moreland. Unrealistic as in, Moreland needs to give the Rangers the production they were expecting when they traded Kinsler for Fielder in November.
That Fielder was supposed to hit more than 30 homers, maybe 40 with right field so inviting at Globe Life Park. Instead, he hit three in 150 at-bats with strength missing in his left arm because of a herniated disk in his neck.
“What I’m trying to do is not get to the point where I’m predicting what Mitch Moreland should do,” Washington said. “I’m putting Mitch Moreland’s name in the lineup, letting Mitch Moreland relax, and if that happens with Mitch Moreland, let it happen.
“I’m not going to put pressure on him. He’s my first baseman. Just go out, play and do what you can do. If we get that Mitch Moreland, I’m all good. We can’t replace Prince Fielder’s healthy production. We don’t have that guy here. Prince is on the DL. There’s nobody that can replace him. So, let Mitch Moreland be Mitch Moreland.”
Mitch Moreland says he is ready to be Mitch Moreland, the one the Rangers thought they had when they dealt away Chris Davis in 2011.
There’s no time like the present.