Rangers' plan for outfield is uncertain

Rangers' plan for outfield is uncertain

Rangers' plan for outfield is uncertain
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Rangers' outfield on Monday night against the Reds had David Murphy in left, Josh Hamilton in center and Nelson Cruz in right.

The Rangers keep saying that they want Hamilton to play left field to reduce the wear and tear on his body. But they also keep coming back to the possibility this may be their best outfield alignment and the one they go with on Opening Day.

"When it comes down to putting our best outfield out there, if it's Josh in center, that's what it will be," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "If it's Josh in left, that's what it will be. But right now there is still competition in center."

That competition is having a hard time keeping up with the concept that Murphy needs to be in the lineup regularly. Craig Gentry is certainly having a difficult spring and may be falling out of the competition, even though he came into camp with "every opportunity" to win the center-field job.

Gentry was removed from Sunday's game with what was described as dehydration. On Monday, the Rangers suspected that Gentry was suffering from a virus that has afflicted others in camp and plan on having him undergo further tests on Tuesday. Whatever it is, it is not helping Gentry's situation.

"I'm sure it's impacting it some," Gentry said. "I'm not trying to think about that. ... I can't help it. I just don't feel good."

Gentry has already been dealing with other physical issues in camp, including a sprained left wrist and hamstring problems. He is also just 3-for-24 at the plate, and the Rangers aren't sure when he'll be ready to return to the lineup.

"When he comes back and is ready to play, I'll put him out there," Washington said. "But he's got to show us something."

Julio Borbon is still competing for a job in center field but has cooled off lately after a strong start. He went into Monday's game with two hits in his last 16 at-bats.

"What Borbon has to do is continue to play," Washington said. "He has nothing to do with the decision I have to make."

Borbon acknowledged that he has hit a bit of a skid but said he is not going to get it bother him.

"The most important thing is I feel good and I'm putting good at-bats together," Borbon said. "I just have to handle what's going on. Before, it would be a big deal, but now I understand it. I feel if I keep working the counts and seeing my pitches, I'll find myself on base more often than not. If I keep working, it will be a matter of time before I take off."

Murphy has had the best spring of any of the Rangers outfielders. He went into Monday's game hitting .317 with a .341 on-base percentage and a .439 slugging percentage. According to Washington, Murphy has also fulfilled his goal of improving his defense.

"He's played very good in left field," Washington said. "He has been very aggressive out there, and that's the way we want to play. He has been impressive with the improvement in his defense."

"I feel like I've been around long enough where I don't have to prove myself, but I don't take things for granted either," Murphy said. "My goal coming into Spring Training was to work hard in improving my defense and getting a solid feeling offensively. I feel I've done both of those things."

This all comes back down to how much the Rangers want Hamilton to play center field, as opposed to left. Hamilton would prefer to play center field, and that's where he ends up playing during the playoffs.

Over the past two years, Hamilton has started 168 games in left field during the regular season and 69 in center. But during the postseason, he has started 30 games in center and three in left.

"The outfield is the outfield," Hamilton said. "Each position is different because of the angles, but it's still catching ground balls, fly balls and line drives. You can get hurt anywhere."

One reason why the Rangers wanted to give Gentry "every opportunity" is because he hits right-handed. The Rangers could use a right-handed bat to go with Murphy and/or Borbon. They signed Conor Jackson to a Minor League contract in the winter as a possible candidate for that role, but he was released on Monday after going 3-for-33 this spring.

Murphy still believes he can play regularly against left-handers and right-handers, and that was another goal this spring. Murphy hit .215 against left-handers in 2011 but .272 against them in 2010.

He was 1-for-3 against both Randy Wolf and Ted Lily earlier this spring and had a hit off of Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw. In that at-bat, Murphy fell behind, 0-2, and then refused to swing at two sliders low and outside. Kershaw then threw a cut fastball for a strike and Murphy smacked a single.

"If I can swing at the right pitches and lay off the right pitches, I'll put myself in a better position," Murphy said. "When I take the right approach against left-handers, I can be successful."

Right now, though, the Rangers aren't worried about Murphy. They know he can play and they know he is going to get his at-bats. Right now the focus is on center field.

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.