The Texas Rangers’ utility infielder spot is a one-on-one battle between Hanser Alberto and Pedro Ciriaco.
One of the two will be counted on to back up at least three of the infield positions — shortstop, second base and third base.
Ciriaco has the experience edge with 125 major league starts (51 third base, 49 shortstop and 25 at second base). He signed a minor league deal with Texas in mid-January after playing with the Braves in 2015.
He made his big league debut with the Pirates in 2010 when Rangers manager Jeff Banister was a coach there.
“A player like me can help the team in several different ways,” said Ciriaco, 30. “There are a lot of good players here. Whatever happens, happens. I don’t need to worry about anybody else, just myself. Try to be the best player I can be.”
Alberto, 23, made his major league debut with the Rangers in 2015. He played in 41 games, plus replaced an injured Adrian Beltre at third base in the postseason. Alberto is more of a known quantity to the club. If he continues to hit like he did during the Dominican Winter League (league-leading .364 batting average, 21 RBIs in 40 games) he’ll have the clear edge on Ciriaco.
Both are rotating working out between shortstop, second base and third base in practice each day.
“That’s what I’m here for. Trying to get good everywhere,” Alberto said. “The main thing is to make the team. I just want to be there and make them make the decision. I’ve got to show them I’m ready and can play everywhere.
Sliding rule change
The MLB and MLB Players Association agreed to a new sliding rule at second base that requires runners on potential double plays to make a “a bona fide attempt to reach and remain on the base.”
Base runners can still make contact with the fielder with a permissible slide but are “specifically prohibited from changing his path to the base or use a roll block for the purpose of initiating contact,” the league said in a release.
“I don’t like it as a runner, I like it as a shortstop,” Elvis Andrus said. “That’s just baseball. You’re going to do whatever is in your power to break up the double play. It’s been there forever. I didn’t have any problem with that even if it looked a little dirty.”
The fielder in Andrus, however, likes the change.
“As a fielder, that’s awesome nobody is going to get you if you’re out of the way,” he said.
Second baseman Rougned Odor was more concerned about having to curtail his aggressive base running style than taking a shot as a fielder.
“It’s going to be hard [sliding directly into the bag]. We’ll have to see how we do in spring training,” he said. “I used to break up the double play and now I can’t.”
Pace of play
The league has also added a 30-second clock for visits to the mound by managers and coaches as part of the pace of play program.
Also, break timers will mirror the time allotted to broadcasters between innings.
They have been reduced by 20 seconds from 2015, down to 2:05 for locally televised games and 2:25 for nationally televised games.
The league hopes this allows players to “more closely match the resumption of play with the return of broadcasters from commercial breaks.”
Right-handed reliever Luke Jackson has been limited the first week of spring training with lower back soreness.
He’s dealt with the issue early in the season since he was in high school, including the past few with the Rangers.
The club is taking a cautionary approach while trying to determine whether anything more substantial is at play.
The muscles around his lower back tighten up soon after he begins to throw extensively each spring. Jackson said the trainers are having him do some therapy and exercises that “hopefully knock it out forever.”
“It might take me a week now [to alleviate the tightness],” he said. “Normally, it’s three days and I’m good to go.”
Rangers assistant general manager Thad Levine said the club prefers to rule a possible underlying issue before letting him resume throwing.
“No need to force him through it so we’re going to ask him to lay low until we have more clarity on that situation, which we hope to have soon,” Levine said.