Texas Rangers

Rangers’ Ruggiano learning first base to boost chances at roster

Rangers OF Justin Ruggiano giving first base a try

Manager Jeff Banister says that Justin Ruggiano, an outfielder by trade, is doing whatever he needs to do to make the Rangers' roster, including playing first base (video by Jeff Wilson).
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Manager Jeff Banister says that Justin Ruggiano, an outfielder by trade, is doing whatever he needs to do to make the Rangers' roster, including playing first base (video by Jeff Wilson).

B games each spring are created by teams looking to get pitchers some work, and oftentimes a veteran starter or reliever will hop onto a back field somewhere to fine-tune for the regular season.

Such was the case Saturday morning when Texas Rangers right-hander Colby Lewis and Chicago White Sox righty Matt Latos squared off at 9:30 at the Surprise Recreation Campus.

The players behind them were almost exclusively minor leaguers, though the Rangers had a veteran at first base. A veteran outfielder.

Justin Ruggiano was playing his second B game of the spring, in addition to a minor league game Tuesday, as he attempts to become a serviceable hand at first base and a potential platoon partner for Mitch Moreland.

Ruggiano said that he is simply trying to make the Opening Day roster, something that seemed like a no-brainer as recently as Feb. 28. He was going to platoon in left field with Josh Hamilton, and maybe play a little first base.

Justin Ruggiano has played in two B games this spring and one minor-league game as he tries to learn how to play first base, where he could become a platoon option with Mitch Moreland.

But the Rangers used the leap-year bonus day to sign Ian Desmond as their everyday left fielder, and Ruggiano is doing all he can to be one of the 25 Rangers in uniform on April 4.

“Initially I came into camp thinking we could work at first base, but I didn’t think it would be a reality to make the club,” said Ruggiano, a native Texan who leaves in Heath. “I need to be able to play first to make this club.

“Things just change. That’s all. You’ve got to learn to roll with it. A motto I’ve had my whole career is be ‘comfortable being uncomfortable.’ I’ve got to remind myself of that every day. As uncomfortable as I am moving to the infield, I’ve just got to embrace it.”

0 Career games at first base for Justin Ruggiano, who has played 372 of his 381 career games in the outfield with nine at designated hitter

Ruggiano first played in the majors in 2007 and 2008 but didn’t see the big leagues again until 2011. Only once in his career has he spent an entire season in the majors, so his motto has been a way of life.

He signed a major league contract worth $1.65 million Dec. 17 primarily because of how well he has performed against left-handed pitchers. The right-handed hitter has a career .865 on-base-plus-slugging percentage against lefties, 10th among active outfielders with at least 500 plate appearances.

Hamilton would sit against some lefties, assuming he was even healthy, and Ruggiano could give Moreland an occasional day off, too.

The Desmond signing changed all of that, and made learning first base more of a priority for Ruggiano. He still has some work to do and wants to do it.

In the B game, for instance, Ruggiano was slow to cover first base on a grounder to second baseman Seth Spivey, who double-pumped and ultimately never threw to first base for what should have been an easy out.

That play aside, Ruggiano said that he is getting more comfortable on the dirt with the shorter reaction times and knowing where he needs to be in different situations.

“It’s starting to slow down a little bit for me, which is a good thing,” said Ruggiano, who played at Texas A&M. “There are going to be some technical things I need to work on, and I’d like to get some ground balls over there. But it is getting easier, and I’m starting to embrace it a little more.”

He is likely to play in a Cactus League game this week. Playing in a ballpark, even one the size of a minor league facility, will be a learning experience after three games on what amounts to a nice high school field.

Manager Jeff Banister said that he has just been waiting for Ruggiano to say the word.

“I don’t know if he’s reinventing himself or he’s just adding another skill set,” Banister said. “All these guys want to stay in the lineup and be in the lineup and add value to a lineup. It’s the quest to get four at-bats every night.

“You look around the landscape of the team, he’s smart enough to know we acquired a pretty good athlete to go out and play left field. If he adds the ability to play first base, it gives him the opportunity to be on the field.”

Going from the grass to the dirt, we’ve decreased the reaction time and it’s becomes a lot faster game. That’s a different transition, and it takes a little longer.

Manager Jeff Banister on Justin Ruggiano at first base

Ruggiano thought he would have plenty of opportunities entering camp. The signing of Desmond changed that, so Ruggiano is busy getting comfortable at being uncomfortable again.

First base isn’t an experiment, and Ruggiano isn’t treating it like one anymore.

“This is happening,” he said. “Most of the time in my career I’ve been coming in and facing [closer Aroldis] Chapman or thrown in there as a defensive replacement. Just uncomfortable situations, and I’ve gotten used to adapting to that type of environment.

“This is another one of those situations.”

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