The battle for the Texas Rangers’ starting designated hitter spot was over before it ever began.
Nary a shot was fired. Mitch Moreland simply showed up, Mitch-walked in his bowed way into the batting cage, and proceeded to send long fly balls soaring over the chain-link fence onto the roadside gravel.
One batting practice. One less job for general manager Jon Daniels and manager Jeff Banister to fill.
There appears to be no reason to believe that Moreland’s annual anointing — his fifth in five springs — was any more complicated than that.
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For the likes of Ryan Rua, Ryan Ludwick, Carlos Peguero, Nate Schierholtz and Jake Smolinski — all of who could probably capably fill the Rangers’ DH role — there is a fierce competition being waged in left field. Good luck with that, gentlemen.
The DH job, however, is off the market.
Moreland, who had only 167 at-bats last season before undergoing ankle surgery, will begin the 2015 season as the full-time DH.
“Right now that’s just the way it is,” Banister said. “With the health of Moreland, we don’t really want to push him right now. The two spots for Mitch right now are DH and first base.
“I would foresee Mitch in the beginning getting the bulk of those DH at-bats.”
The left ankle that brought an early end to Moreland’s 2014 season and led to surgery has completely healed, the Rangers said. Moreland has been given the full green light to run or trot around the bases.
He has a .269 batting average with two homers and seven RBIs in major league exhibition games this spring. He’s also taken swings in some of the minor league games on the Surprise back fields.
But Moreland’s calling card has always been batting practice. With his big, long, left-handed swing, Moreland can bring the rain.
Until June, history tells us. That’s when things for Mitch always seem to turn cloudy.
Over his five previous major league seasons, Moreland — who turns 30 in September — has a .252 batting average, a .316 on-base percentage and an OPS-plus (his on-base plus slugging percentages, adjusted for ballparks) of 99.
He is an average American League player, at best, the numbers say. Position ratings are not as kind — Moreland was 20th among American League first basemen in 2012 and 25th a year ago.
That includes Moreland’s historically hottest months, April and May, where his career batting average has been .283.
Take out the first two months of every Mitch Moreland season, and his career line shows a .233 average, .301 on-base percentage, .388 slugging and an OPS of .689.
No American League first baseman or DH with as many at-bats during the same period has worse numbers.
Yet, the Rangers are preparing to start the season with Moreland again in their everyday lineup.
That’s insanity — in the true clinical definition of the word. The Rangers are about to repeat the same thing, hoping for different results.
“Mitch has shown really well, all winter long,” Daniels said this week. “He’s in a tremendous spot, mentally and physically. He’s swinging the bat well.”
When it was pointed out that Moreland has had these kinds of spring trainings before, Daniels said, “Yeah, but it’s a different approach, a different look right now, in my opinion.
“I think Mitch is in a good place to step up from a leadership standpoint as well. I think he’s got that in him.”
The club has long been infatuated with Moreland’s style of what one of the coaches once called “country hardball.” He does take a handsome batting practice.
But that infatuation has come with a toll. Because the ballclub either thought Moreland was the answer at first base or he failed to perform to expectations at the job he was given, the Rangers no longer employ Chris Davis, Mike Napoli, Ian Kinsler and Nelson Cruz.
You can Google all of them. Moreland’s name figured in all four All-Star players now playing elsewhere.
And now the Rangers are planning to also let the left-handed Moreland bat against lefties, though his career average against them is .227.
“He’s had some good at-bats against left-handers,” Banister said.
“I see Mitch as a run producer, being able to stretch the lineup out.”
I see Moreland as a place-holder until one of the club’s young prospects shows that he’s ready to take some cuts at major league pitching.
We already know how the guy with the job does.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697