Beware the ides of April.
That’s not proper Shakespeare, I know, but it’s solid baseball advice.
The baseball season’s first two weeks is not the time to be lunging for the panic button. Today’s Prince could well end up as July’s king.
The Texas Rangers began play Tuesday with a .251 batting average, sixth-best in the American League. It only seems worse because the Rangers are near the bottom in runs scored and hitting with men on base.
Ten times in the club’s first 13 games, the Rangers scored four or fewer runs.
An anomaly … or an omen?
“That’s just part of baseball,” hitting coach Dave Magadan said before Tuesday’s game with the Seattle Mariners. “We’re going through our rough spot now. I’ve got to believe it’s just a matter of time.”
Minutes earlier, the media questions in manager Ron Washington’s office had been about Prince Fielder, who is batting neither his weight nor the bat boy’s. Prince began the night at .176.
“He’s gonna be fine, that’s my feeling,” Washington said.
He harked back to his Frank Thomas story.
“Frank needed 100 at-bats before he felt comfortable and got going,” Wash said. “He ended the year at .310, 32 [homers] and 110 [RBIs]. Prince fits in that mode.”
The reference was mostly accurate, assuming it was 2006 when Hall of Famer Thomas was with the Oakland Athletics. On May 20 of that year, at age 38, Big Frank was batting .178 after 118 at-bats. He finished the season batting .270 with a .926 OPS, 39 home runs and 114 runs batted in.
Fielder hasn’t been the Texas lineup’s only problem — just its biggest. The Rangers have gotten solid replacement work, for the most part, from Kevin Kouzmanoff, Josh Wilson, Donnie Murphy and Robinson Chirinos. But that’s not the lineup that they were supposed to leave spring training with.
“We don’t have three of the guys that we had in our lineup coming out of spring training,” Magadan said. “And when you try to replace a guy like Adrian Beltre, who’s a big part not only of our offense but also our leadership on the field and the energy that he brings to the table every day, that’s something that’s hard to replace.”
Injured starters Beltre, Jurickson Profar and Geovany Soto will eventually return. But what major league club can weather the loss of three starting position players?
The answer becomes more difficult when Fielder and designated hitter Mitch Moreland are off to slow starts. Moreland began Tuesday’s game with a .229 average and only three runs batted in, despite batting in the middle of the lineup all season.
The club’s patience with Moreland has hampered rookie Michael Choice’s development. Choice batted .375 in 48 at-bats against right-handed pitching during spring training, but he’s been relegated to a platoon role in the regular season.
Choice is 24 years old. Moreland is 28 and has a .253 average for his career. From May 20 to the end of the 2013 season, Moreland batted .194 with a .639 OPS.
Moreland’s hold on a regular place on the lineup card may be wearing thin. The same could be said for J.P. Arencibia, who’s been a major disappointment while sharing the catching duties with Chirinos.
“As I’ve kept saying, it’s timing,” Washington said. “Hitting is timing. It’s being on time every pitch.”
Any day now, the manager added, Fielder could get one big hit and bust loose.
Maybe that big hit was Tuesday, when Fielder launched a 416-foot rocket into the center field seats for his first Rangers home run.
It’s April. The Rangers’ lineup — and its batting averages — are still in disarray.
Smells like an anomaly, not an omen.