The news that all but sent the Texas Rangers into rebuild mode last season arrived a year ago Friday.
First baseman Prince Fielder, baseball’s iron man, decided to have cervical fusion surgery after finally admitting to himself that he could no longer be an effective big-league hitter while swinging with only one good arm.
The surgery was a baseball awakening for one of the game’s elite sluggers.
He isn’t the same player — not because he has hit only five home runs in his comeback season — but because he has willingly conceded that hits of any kind are better than outs and that he isn’t as good of a defender as Mitch Moreland.
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As a result of Fielder sacrificing ego for the good of the team, Moreland has been a better player. He’s saving runs with his glove and producing at the plate as a more engaged hitter than he was as a designated hitter.
Moreland delivered Thursday for the Rangers as they won only their second series of the season. He went 3 for 4 with a home run and two RBIs, and Wandy Rodriguez limited Boston to one run in 6 2/3 innings of a 3-1 victory at Fenway Park.
“I feel like I’m into the game,” said Moreland, who raised his average to .312. “When I was DH-ing, it almost felt like a pinch hit. I want to be out there and be in that part of the game as well. It’s a lot of fun playing defense.
“Prince came up and talked to me about it. It just shows that he’s a great leader and a great teammate. It was really big of him to do that. I appreciate it, and I’m going to go out there and try to prove him right and help my team win.”
Fielder saw his nine-game hitting streak snapped after going 0 for 4, but his deep fly ball to right field in the first inning moved Shin-Soo Choo and Delino DeShields, who opened the game with singles, to second and third.
Both would score two batters later as Moreland sent a roller toward second base. Adrian Beltre, who had walked, was out at second as Choo scored, but Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts dropped the ball as he tried to throw to first and DeShields scored on the error.
Moreland gave the Rangers a 3-0 lead in the fourth, when he lifted a Clay Buchholz pitch over the Green Monster.
Rodriguez did his best pitching and made the key defensive play of the game in the fourth, which opened with a Mookie Betts single and a Dustin Pedroia double to put runners at second and third.
David Ortiz’s grounder scored Betts, but Rodriguez fielded a Hanley Ramirez tapper and flipped it out of his glove to catcher Carlos Corporan to get Pedroia at the plate for the second out.
“I don’t know why he came to home plate,” said Rodriguez, who relied on a sharp two-seam fastball to get 11 ground ball outs.
Rodriguez caught a break in the fifth, when a Daniel Nava bouncer on a hit-and-run hit Bogaerts in the foot for an out and killed a potential Boston rally.
Keone Kela got four outs after Rodriguez left, and Shawn Tolleson pitched around an Ortiz double to open the ninth to earn the save in a second straight game.
The bullpen has tossed 13 consecutive scoreless innings since the decision to strip the relievers of any set roles.
“We’ll stay with it,” manager Jeff Banister said.
The Rangers scored just eight runs in the series as the offense still searches for more hits with runners in scoring position. Fielder has been the exception, batting .400 in those situations.
Despite his hitless night, he’s still batting .340 overall. And he said he feels fine physically and is happy with his mental approach to the game after making a difficult decision to opt for surgery.
“It was tough because I take pride in being able to play. You think you’re indestructible,” said Fielder, who has a team-high 23 RBIs. “I thought we could just fix it with the epidural shot. I thought it was going to clear it up.
“I’m good. I’m happy. I think I’m more mature. When I wasn’t hitting well before, I’d just swing harder. Now I’ll take my singles. If someone makes a mistake, you can swing a little harder, but if I know it’s a guy who’s probably not going to make a mistake, I stay within myself.”
The Rangers still believe the power is there, and aren’t complaining that it’s not. They see him going the other way, eliminating drastic infield shifts against him, and like that he’s driving in runs.
“I have faith that as this season progresses, you’re going to see a steady incline in those home runs,” Banister said. “As long as he’s in a really good place, I’m in a really good place with him.”
Moreland’s in a good place, too.
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760