The way Mitch Moreland burst on the Texas Rangers’ scene, as a power-hitting rookie during their finest season to date, suddenly cast him as the savior at first base.
No Rangers player hit better in the 2010 World Series than Moreland, who swatted the first homer in the lone win, clicked off six hits in 13 at-bats and made his competition at first base, Chris Davis, expendable.
Four seasons later, Moreland hasn’t met those expectations. He has dealt with injuries in each season — wrist, hamstring, the other hamstring, ankle — and has been limited because of them.
So as the Rangers look for answers offensively, they essentially have an unknown in Moreland at designated hitter. The club and the player each have an idea of what they think he’s capable of doing, but they have no idea what his ceiling is.
As the Rangers enjoyed their only off day of the spring Wednesday, Moreland is healthy and confident. If that sounds like a familiar storyline, that’s because it is.
Moreland is hoping he can finally provide a different ending. Right now, it’s open-ended yet again.
“I don’t know if I can put a certain number or whatever on it,” Moreland said. “I’ve tried to go out and play the game hard every time I step between the line. Sometimes it goes great. Sometimes you have your struggles and your bumps in the road.”
The batting practice is still impressive. The power, the kind that knocked to the D Ring at Tropicana Field, is still in Moreland after season-ending reconstructive left ankle surgery in 2014.
The Rangers, though, saw a hit tool when Moreland was coming through the majors and have seen it only in spurts since. They liked the way he could hit the ball to the opposite field, but in past seasons he has been pull-happy.
But after only 15 spring at-bats and countless rounds of batting practice and cage work, the Rangers see the kind of player they thought Moreland would become.
“In large part, I think, it’s because he’s healthy and he’s confident, and that’s fun to see,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “He’s had some physical issues. He’s also had the mental side of decisions that we’ve made. I’m proud of him for where he is now. He looks tremendous.”
The Rangers remain cautious with Moreland’s new ankle, even though he doesn’t seem too concerned.
“The ankle is over,” he said.
Moreland was limited early in camp, especially in running drills, and the Rangers have stopped talking about sticking him in left field to protect the ankle and to not put anything else on the plate that might take his focus from his primary duties.
“He’s looks pretty good at the plate, doesn’t he?” manager Jeff Banister said. “We need for Mitch to be a bully in the box.”
That could be 23 homers, which is Moreland’s career-high set in 2013, or it could be hitting better than the career-best .275 average he posted in 2012.
He’s not setting any personal goals. He wants to return to the World Series and help be a contributor in getting the Rangers there.
“I can’t control anything but myself and the way I go about my business. I put my head down and try to focus on the main goal.”
For a second straight season, the Rangers’ first five hitters seem formidable enough, but there are questions about spots 6-9. Moreland figures to be the No. 6 hitter against right-handed pitchers, likely serving as protection for either Prince Fielder or Shin-Soo Choo.
The Rangers thought they knew in October 2010 what Moreland was capable of doing. They admit that, because of injuries, they aren’t sure what his ceiling is, but they’re going to give him a chance to show them.
“I don’t know if he knows what he can be yet,” Banister said. “Let’s hope he gets an opportunity to find out so he knows who he is. I know what he thinks he is. I watch. He shows you every day.”
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760
vs. Reds, 3:05 p.m., Goodyear Stadium
TV: None. Radio: None.
Rangers probable pitchers: LHP Ross Detwiler, RHP Nick Martinez, RHP Kyuji Fujikawa
Reds probable pitchers: RHP Anthony DeSclafani, LHP David Holmberg