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Washington prefers to use Hamilton in left field

Washington prefers to use Hamilton in left field

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Rangers manager Ron Washington doesn't know who will be his Opening Day pitcher next season, but he does know who he wants in left field.

He wants Josh Hamilton out there.

Hamilton played both left and center field this past season while winning the American League Most Valuable Player Award. He ended the season playing primarily center field in the playoffs but Washington wants him back in left field next year.

Washington is back to believing that playing left reduces the "wear and tear" on Hamilton over the course of the season. Hamilton missed most of September with two small fractures in his left rib cage after running into a wall in center field.

"It's just that we have younger personnel that can handle center field out there better," Washington said. "Hamilton is a big body, and we want to try to keep him as healthy as we can and get him in as many ballgames as we possibly can. That doesn't mean Hamilton won't be in center field. But if we can avoid it and get one of our guys to take over out there, that's what we'd like to do."

That one guy would be Julio Borbon, who played in 137 games this past season -- his first full year in the Majors -- and hit .276 with a .309 on-base percentage, 60 runs scored and 15 stolen bases. He saw limited playing time in the playoffs as the Rangers went with an outfield of Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and the platoon tandem of David Murphy and Jeff Francoeur.

Francoeur is gone while Murphy is back, but the Rangers want to give Borbon another chance to be their everyday center fielder.

"He gained a lot of experience of what a Major League Baseball season is like," Washington said. "I think he gained a lot of mental toughness, because at the Major League level, that is exactly what it takes. It's being able to overcome the mental grind.

"I think now that he has a winter to think about the things that he could have done, this guy still almost hit .280. I think he's accomplished a lot, and we're certainly looking forward to him coming into Spring Training. We certainly haven't given up on him, and he is our future."

Borbon is playing in the Dominican Republic. Washington was down there over the weekend before flying in for the Winter Meetings and talked with Borbon about what he expected from him next season. Mainly it was about making better decisions.

"Hitting the cutoff man, throwing to the right bag, knowing when and when not to throw at someone, stuff like that," Washington said. "That comes with experience. It's more mental type issues than anything."

The Rangers still have over two months to go before they go to Spring Training and they still have several holes to fill before they are ready. But Washington still has his opinions on his team, and one of them is keeping Neftali Feliz as his closer.

Texas has mulled the possibility of moving Feliz to the rotation if the club can't re-sign Cliff Lee or trade for Zack Greinke. But Washington seems to favor keeping Feliz in the bullpen. He saved 40 games this past season in winning the AL Rookie of the Year Award.

"I haven't thought about Feliz in the rotation," Washington said. "I've thought about Feliz only gets me three outs at the end of the game. But now that's an option that will stay open also. I'd rather him get me three outs at the end of the game. But if it's necessary to bring him into the starting rotation, I can tell you guys right now, we won't hesitate to do it."

There are those in the Rangers' organization who believe that if they need to convert a reliever into a starter, it would be Alexi Ogando. Washington was noncommital on that possibility.

"I haven't seen enough of Ogando," Washington said. "All I've seen of Ogando is out of the bullpen. I can only go by what I'm told. But we know he has the ability to maybe become a starter, but it's not anything we've discussed."

One other point Washington made in going over his team is that he still feels Mitch Moreland needs to earn the first-base job in Spring Training. Moreland, called up at the end of July, played in 47 games for the Rangers and hit .255 with nine home runs and 25 RBIs over 145 at-bats. He also hit .348 in the playoffs, including 6-for-13 in the World Series.

But Washington still wants to see him earn the job in Spring Training while working on improving his defense.

"I just want to see him come in and show improvement in his thought processes," Washington said. "That may have to do with the cutoffs and relays and being in the right spot, improving his foot work, improving his glove work ... everything that you want to see.

"We know the type of hitter that he is. We know he has the capability of grinding on at-bats. He will make pitchers throw strikes and all the things that you want to see, he does as far as offense goes. But there's more to the game than just offense."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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