The timing was right and the Texas Rangers finally pulled the plug on Prince Fielder.
Fielder was out of the lineup Saturday night and is likely to sit for Sunday’s finale with the Seattle Mariners in an effort to let him take a step back from the toughest two-month stretch of his career.
Fielder is being unplugged, as manager Jeff Banister often puts it, to help him clear his head. His batting average had dropped to .187 after he went 0 for 3 Friday night. He’s 0 for 11 in his past three games and 4 for his past 35. He has three homers, the fewest through the first two months of any season in his career.
“This is a significant hitter and player in the game of baseball,” Banister said. “There are times when the game is a challenge. Then there are times when the games seem very easy to some.”
At the moment, that’s the case for Jurickson Profar, who was used as the designated hitter Saturday night and batting leadoff for the eighth consecutive game. Profar moved from second base to DH with the return of Rougned Odor from his seven-game suspension.
Profar seemed destined to return to Triple A Round Rock when Odor returned but a confluence of factors intervened. Chief among them was Profar’s outstanding week. He’s hitting well over .350 with two homers and a .364 on-base percentage. He doubled in his first at-bat Saturday to start the Rangers’ three-run first inning.
“It’s kind of a unique timing with Jurickson up here with Rougie coming back that kind of led to doing it right now, where we have a guy up here who is playing well, in the flow of things,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “This kind of presented itself that now would be a good time to try it.”
This is about the long term as much as it is about the short term.
Fielder’s 12-year track record is impressive. The club believes Fielder’s bat is integral to the club’s postseason success. A brief respite away from games, Banister believes, can help Fielder return to the hitter he was a year ago when he earned the American League Comeback Player of the Year award.
It helped a year ago this month with Shin-Soo Choo, who was struggling worse than Fielder. Choo was given a couple days off and had the best second half of his career. Banister gave Ian Desmond a couple of days off in mid-April after a rough first two weeks and Desmond has been on a tear ever since.
“He’s a quality player, a quality hitter,” Banister said. “He’s scuffling right now at the result area … there have been some quality at-bats along the way that allowed us to win baseball games. They go unseen, unnoticed in the box score because they don’t get talked about.
“The impact of having Prince in our lineup is significant. There comes a time where I make a decision as a manager to unplug certain guys and give them the opportunity to exhale, refresh. The hope is we can bring him back and reset the trap.”
Fielder, who was not in the clubhouse during the media availability before Saturday’s game, said recently that he was becoming more mature learning to deal with his slump. He hoped that after last Sunday, which included his first homer in the previous 34 games, that the tide was turning. But he’s had just one single since the homer.
“I think there’s a mental element for sure and then there’s a swing, physical element, too,” Daniels said. “Sometimes it’s not always perfectly clear, it’s not always A to B to C linear, an easy-to-understand explanation of why a guy will struggle and then he’ll be fine.”
Nobody wants to contribute to a winning team more than Fielder. The failure to do that was just compounding his problems at the plate.
“Let him get a little bit of a break and step away from the competition on a night to night basis for whatever it is or turns out to be and at the same time allow him to clear his head and get to work with the hitting coaches and get back to the guy we know he can be,” said Daniels, who said Profar’s hot bat afforded the club a chance to unplug Fielder.
“The short term right now is Jurickson is playing well. He’s going to have an 0-for [night], too. He’s human. But, long term, we need Prince. We need all these guys. You need a lot of depth, a lot of things to break right over the course of a season for a team to win. We’re spending a few days right now to invest in the long term to get Prince where we know he can be.”
Rangers vs. Mariners
2:05 p.m. Sunday, FSSW