Take it from the one player in the Texas Rangers’ camp who knows Prince Fielder better than any other — the first baseman is in the right frame of mind for a rebound season.
“He seems like the same guy from what I remember in Milwaukee,” said right-hander Yovani Gallardo, a Brewers teammate of Fielder from 2007 to 2011. “He’s always worked hard, and I think that’s why he’s had a good career.
“We all know last year was tough for him, and I think this year he came with the mindset of he wants to get back where he was. You can see that. You can see that in his attitude and the way he’s working this spring. It’s the same old Prince.”
That’s a thumbs-up review for one of the game’s preeminent power hitters as he attempts to return from cervical fusion surgery nine months ago. The work 10 days after his arrival to the Surprise Recreation Campus is starting to pay off.
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Positive results weren’t evident in the box score Wednesday after two hitless at-bats in the Rangers’ Cactus League opener, a 13-2 loss to Kansas City. But cage work and batting practices have improved as Fielder works to quit the bad habits that developed as he battled injury since — he and the Rangers now believe — 2013.
“The thing was, getting to the ball was a good swing, but there was nothing left to finish,” Fielder said. “It was a bad habit as far as follow-throughs. My mind was trying to figure a way. My bottom hand worked great.”
But the left hand was numb — “dead” as Fielder puts it — as he tried to finish his swing. The result was grounder after grounder to the right side of the infield and an inability to get balls into the air.
Fielder finished with only three homers in 150 at-bats before having surgery. He wasn’t getting any back spin on the pull side, a sure indication that his mechanics had been compromised dating as far back as midway through the 2013 season before he was traded to the Rangers.
“It’s so hard because he had so few opportunities last year and was never healthy,” hitting coach Dave Magadan said. “We just need to get him back to where he was, especially 2012 in Detroit, and get him back to those mechanics. He just got into some bad habits because of the weakness in his left arm.”
General manager Jon Daniels said he has no concerns with Fielder’s ability to be productive again. But Daniels and manager Jeff Banister acknowledged that Fielder might not have a productive spring as he tries to adjust to his old swing.
To think that he would have hit homers in his first two spring at-bats rather than what happened — a bouncer to first base and a pop-up to left field — isn’t understanding what Fielder is facing.
However, the belief is, as long as there are no setbacks with the neck, Fielder will figure out his swing with time.
“It’s been 9 1/2 months since the last time he swung a bat in a game competitively,” Banister said. “It’s about his intent, his conviction and his confidence, a guy who is working on getting himself to where he needs to be and how he’s capable of finding the barrel.
“That timing and rhythm is paramount. I want him to be the most confident hitter he can be Day One.”
Day One is April 6 at Oakland in the season opener, not Wednesday in the spring lid-lifter. For starters, Fielder was pleased even though the results were lacking. There is strength in his swing.
“I didn’t get any hits, but I wasn’t jumpy or jittery,” Fielder said. “I swung with some force. That’s a great feeling. The rest is just timing and getting locked in. You don’t forget how to play baseball.”
Fielder also acknowledged something he has ducked in the past when asked the last time he has felt the way he feels now. He said Wednesday that he hasn’t felt this good in “a couple years.”
“Now it’s just regular baseball,” Fielder said. “I might roll over one or pop one up, but that has nothing to do with my body. I’ll take 2 for 4 with two rollovers and fix it rather than 2 for 4 and trying to figure out how to hit with only my right hand.
“I’m feeling great. I’m just happy to get back to doing it.”
Just as Gallardo said.
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760
Prince Fielder’s down year
First baseman Prince Fielder played in only 42 games last season before having neck surgery in May. His numbers were a vast departure from his career marks.
Lewis, Gallardo upbeat despite rough
outings in spring opener against Royals. 12B