Gil LeBreton

Rangers make slumping Fielder take fifth

Rangers designated hitter Prince Fielder is a career .285 hitter, but he enter Tuesday’s game hitting just .192.
Rangers designated hitter Prince Fielder is a career .285 hitter, but he enter Tuesday’s game hitting just .192. Special to the Star-Telegram

One day their Prince will come.

That’s their story, at least, and the Texas Rangers are sticking to it.

Even if the Prince of their dreams, slugger Prince Fielder, began Tuesday night batting only .192.

For all of its sabermetrics and modern equations, baseball is far from a static endeavor. Players slump. Percentages waver.

In Fielder’s case, even a career .285 hitter can lapse into a prolonged funk.

But rather than bench Fielder, who just turned 32, for a day, manager Jeff Banister opted Tuesday for a more restrained alternative.

For only the third time in the past 10 seasons, Fielder was moved to the No. 5 spot in the starting lineup. In all of his other games between this and the 2007 seasons, Prince batted either third or fourth.

Moving Fielder to fifth wasn’t the only alteration to the Rangers’ batting order against the Chicago White Sox. First baseman Mitch Moreland and rookie right fielder Nomar Mazara, both left-handed hitters, were rested in favor of Ryan Rua and Drew Stubbs, respectively.

“We’re 0-3 versus [Carlos] Rodon,” Banister explained. “We’re going to try to give him a little different look.”

The lineup shuffle, therefore, seemed to be based partly on percentages, partly just because a day off can be the antidote to a festering slump.

A year ago Monday, the Rangers made the ticklish decision to send second baseman Rougned Odor, batting .144, to the minor leagues. Odor returned a month later, and has batted .293 since.

Mazara had his worst day Monday — 0-for-6 at the plate — since being called up from Triple-A. Moreland is a career .231 hitter against lefties.

Mazara was due to have a day off but pinch-hit late in Tuesday’s game. The American League’s rookie of the month for April had failed to start only one time since being promoted from Round Rock on April 10.

Veteran Moreland, on the other hand, needed to be relegated to a rest day with a tough lefty like Rodon on the mound.

Despite his poor career numbers against left-handers, Moreland has played in 15 games and gone to the plate 26 times against lefties this season.

Right-handed hitting Ryan Rua, on the other hand, has started only three games against lefties. After being one of the team’s leading hitters in spring training — he batted .404 with a 1.092 OPS — Rua had received only 44 at-bats going into Tuesday’s game.

The bat that Banister really needs to get going, however, is Fielder’s. Despite an early splash of run-producing efficiency, Fielder began the night with only two home runs and a .521 OPS.

“Prince is a professional,” Banister said before the game. “He’s a long-term big leaguer. He wants to do very well for us and his teammates, and he continues to work hard. He knows, and we know that he needs to have better production for us.

“Whether this helps him get in that groove or not, what’s going to help him is string some hits together. Get some positive results for himself.”

While his 2016 statistics could constitute a small sample size, Fielder’s production began to wane as far back as 12 months ago. After getting three hits against Cleveland last May 26 to raise his batting average to .371, Fielder’s numbers dipped.

Since that date, a span of 145 games, Fielder is batting only .257 with 15 home runs.

That’s not the production of a $24 million player.

When asked whether he thought Prince had any lingering issues, physical or otherwise, after his 2014 neck surgery, Banister answered, “No, nothing like that. Mentally, I don’t think so. We stared down that bear last year, and I don’t think there’s any issues there.”

Banister’s hunch is that Fielder will come around. Fielder’s track record suggests it as well.

The Rangers need him to be a prince, a run producer and, most of all, at least a semblance of the home run hitter he once was.

Otherwise, Prince Fielder becomes an expensive burden, no matter where he bats in the lineup.

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram