Tablet Sports

Rangers’ Moreland haunted by Davis’ shadow

In the spring of his most important baseball season, Mitch Moreland has a plan.

He wants to stand a little taller, work a little harder and read a few less things that people are writing about him.

That’s a worthy plan, if you ask me, especially that last part. Though he set career highs last season in games played, homers and runs batted in — cumulative things — Moreland’s percentages suggested that from June 5 to the end of September he was the worst first baseman in the American League.

In those 90 games, Moreland batted only .195 with a .275 on-base percentage. And some of us couldn’t help but frequently point that out.

On Nov. 20, the Rangers took Moreland’s job away, when they traded Ian Kinsler to the Detroit Tigers for first baseman Prince Fielder, a five-time All-Star.

In due time, Moreland’s name began to appear in rumored trades with the Rays and Pirates. The Moreland-to-Pittsburgh buzz, fueled in part because former Rangers hitting coach Clint Hurdle is the Pirates manager, has continued this spring.

Surely, Moreland has been hearing that.

“Absolutely not,” he countered Thursday. “I try not to read any of it. I try to keep my head down, get my work in, and take care of myself, because I can’t control what the team does.

“I just go out and play. I can’t control what people write. I just go out and play. When I get between the lines, I just try to have fun.”

Maybe. But the 2013 season didn’t seem like much fun for Moreland. As his batting production shrunk, the giant Rangers shadow over him grew larger.

That shadow’s name is Chris Davis, who hit 53 home runs and drove in 138 runs for the Baltimore Orioles.

At the trade deadline in 2011, somebody in the Rangers organization decided that Moreland was their first baseman of the future, and Davis was traded to the Orioles.

One of the early Mitch backers, assistant hitting coach Bobby Jones, remains in the Moreland camp.

“One thing about Mitch is he’s a hard worker,” Jones said Thursday as the Rangers began their exhibition season. “This kid never gives up. He always seems to have had a good first half, then he’s gotten hurt and struggled in the second half.

“But he’s always battling, trying to find new things. He’s just a gamer.”

That kind of scouting assessment, however, won’t help this season. Moreland, relegated to the role of DH and part-time right fielder, has to be more productive, or he could find this job, too, taken away.

Promising rookie Michael Choice, four years younger than Moreland, lashed two hits in the Rangers’ 11-7 victory Thursday over the Kansas City Royals.

But Moreland had a good day as well. Batting fifth in the lineup, Moreland came up in the first inning and ripped a run-scoring single off Royals left-hander Bruce Chen.

He has a new batting stance this spring, standing taller in an effort to free his hands more easily.

Manager Ron Washington was asked what he most wants to see from Moreland.

“Consistency,” Washington said. “Just consistency. Use the whole field. That’s when Mitch is at his best, when he can hit the ball everywhere.

“It’s just a matter of him trusting his approach and doing what Mitch can do. He can’t get caught up with trying to compare himself to anyone. Just be Mitch Moreland, and everything is going to be fine.”

Maybe, but Moreland isn’t likely to get 147 games again to prove himself. Washington’s plan is to give some of his position starters a semi-day off by rotating them in the DH spot, with Moreland doing the duties the other 3-4 days.

What happened last year, in any case, is in the past, Moreland repeated Thursday.

“I don’t know if you could say I put pressure on myself,” he said. “I guess you could say a lot of stuff, because I didn’t get it done like I wanted to.

“But this is a new year. You can’t look at the past.”

His best plan, as his manager said, is to “just be Mitch Moreland,” and hope that it’s enough.

The shadow notwithstanding, he’s never had a more important baseball season.