By Stephen Hawkins
AP Sports Writer
SURPRISE, Ariz. – Mitch Moreland’s role with the Texas Rangers immediately changed when they acquired Prince Fielder in a trade early in the offseason.
There was even some uncertainty then if Moreland, one of their longest-tenured position players, would still be with the Rangers after starting a team-high 211 games the past two seasons at first base, Fielder’s primary position.
Texas kept Moreland, and the former Amory and Mississippi State standout has spent most of his time so far in spring training working with the outfielders. There has been limited work at first base, and he will also get plenty of turns as the designated hitter.
“I’m just trying to get acclimated to a couple of different positions and do some things different this year,” Moreland said.
Moreland started in right field for a Cactus League game Friday, a day after being the designated hitter in the spring opener.
Fielder has played a majors-best 505 consecutive games, and been at first base for at least 151 games in all eight of his full major league seasons. But manager Ron Washington expects to get Fielder a few days off the field while in the lineup as the DH, when Moreland can fill in at first.
Moreland can also play the corner outfield spots when Shin-Soo Choo or Alex Rios get a day off or take the DH spot. Moreland has played 45 career games in the outfield, and was an everyday outfielder at Triple-A before getting to the majors. The left-hander was even a pitcher in college.
“Mitch has done a good job with his attitude. He’s enjoying what he’s doing,” Washington said. “I don’t see anything different that would say that it wouldn’t work, what he has to do. And he’s around a group of guys that he love and trust, and all he has to do is just do his job. … I’ll give him the opportunity to take care of that.”
Drafted by the Rangers in 2007, Moreland made his major league debut midway through the 2010 season. He finished his rookie year hitting a team-best .462 (6 of 13) in the World Series when he was the only Texas player with a hit in all five games against San Francisco.
Elvis Andrus with 757 games is the only current Rangers position player who has been in more games for Texas than Moreland (442).
Last spring, Moreland was the only true first baseman on the Rangers roster. He had started more than half the Rangers games at first base the previous two seasons even while splitting time there with veterans Michael Young and Mike Napoli.
Texas avoided salary arbitration with Moreland by agreeing to a $2.65 million contract only a few days before spring training. That was a raise of more than $2 million for the player who some thought might be traded after the Rangers dealt Ian Kinsler to Detroit in November for Fielder, who has seven years remaining on his massive contract.
“I just had to go out and get ready to play and do what I can to make myself better individually and be able to do what I can to help the team. Whether it was here, or wherever,” Moreland said. “Thankfully, I am here, and got the opportunity still with the Rangers, so I’m going to try to make the most of it.”