Searching for a spark against left-handers, manager Jeff Banister got creative with the Texas Rangers’ lineup Sunday morning as Mike Napoli — yes, that Mike Napoli — was the starter in left field.
The move allowed Mitch Moreland to play first base against lefty Felix Doubront. Moreland is one of the Rangers’ best hitters, so it couldn’t hurt regardless of the iffy defense Napoli would likely provide.
But what the Rangers need more than anything is for Adrian Beltre and Prince Fielder to start hitting against left-handers or right-handers or that ambidextrous guy, especially with the first-place Houston Astros and their two All-Star lefties coming to town.
Let Sunday serve as the blueprint.
Beltre hit two home runs, a two-run shot in the fourth and a three-run shot in the fifth, and Fielder had his first multi-hit game in more than a week as the Rangers’ bats broke loose in a 12-4 victory.
“Those are the two big boys in the heart of our lineup that we depend on,” manager Jeff Banister said. “They showed up well today, both of them. We go as they go a lot of times. They carry the load for the biggest part of the year, and we try to help them out along the way. To get them going today, we needed to see that, and it was nice to see.”
The win kept the Rangers 1 1/2 games out of the American League West lead ahead of a four-game series against the Astros, who scored five runs with two outs to win at Anaheim on Sunday. The Rangers’ lead for the second wild card held at one game over Minnesota and grew to three over the Angels.
Shin-Soo Choo homered off Doubront and drove in two runs as part of a 3-for-4 game, Elvis Andrus had a two-run single to cap a five-run fifth inning, and Rougned Odor finished things with a three-run shot in the eighth.
Chi Chi Gonzalez, starting so that Cole Hamels could start Monday, took a shutout to the sixth before allowing three runs in 5 1/3 innings.
“After that first inning I just tried to get the ball and go,” Gonzalez said. “The offense did well and scored me runs, and we played defense well, too.”
The rest of the game was a struggle as the Rangers used five relievers. The A’s used six in relief of Doubront, who allowed a homer in the first to Choo but not another hit until Choo singled to start the fourth.
“Since the All-Star break, he’s been about as hot a hitter as there is,” Banister said.
Beltre followed with his 14th homer of the season, off the back wall of the A’s bullpen 436 feet away, and he hit No. 15 an inning later after Chris Gimenez opened with a single and Choo walked with one out.
Beltre, who entered the game in a 5-for-38 funk, has 410 career homers and 27 multi-homer games in his career. Fielder hadn’t had more than one hit in a game since Sept. 1, and he was 4-for-31 in his past nine games before going 2 for 5.
The Rangers had lost five of their previous six games against lefty starters. Houston is planning to start lefties Scott Kazmir on Monday and Dallas Keuchel on Wednesday.
“Prince and I, we hit in the middle of the lineup and we are more responsible than anyone else on the team,” Beltre said. “We were kind of slipping for the last couple of games. Today was a good awakening. Everybody contributed and it was just nice to see. It’s big to take that to tomorrow’s game.”
Oakland was just pesky enough on offense that Banister had to use some key pieces in the bullpen. Primary setup relievers Keone Kela, Sam Dyson and Jake Diekman were all needed, and closer Shawn Tolleson warmed briefly in the eighth inning.
But the Rangers didn’t seem overly concerned ahead of a series that could shoot them into first place in the West or make it difficult for them to win their first division title since 2011.
The Rangers will be a lot better off if Beltre and Fielder can keep their bats going, and not just against the lefties who have tied up the Rangers at times this season.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Beltre said. “We want to face the team that’s ahead of us, which is Houston. We know they have a really good team, and we’re looking forward to our chance to climb up.”