Michael Young needs to hit or sit

Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington banished Roy Oswalt to the bullpen Tuesday afternoon because he's pitching poorly.

It's absolutely the right move, especially since the Rangers acquired starter Ryan Dempster from the Chicago Cubs just before Major League Baseball's trade deadline.

The Rangers find themselves in a heated race for the AL West title after a 6-2 loss to Los Angeles trimmed their lead over the Angels and Oakland Athletics to three games.

So there's no time to placate any player -- even a former star such as Oswalt, who made it clear when he signed with Texas that he wasn't interested in being a long reliever.

Of course, that was before Oswalt had a 6.49 ERA and opponents were hitting .358 against him.

Michael Young, who went 2-for-3 with a run scored in the loss to Los Angeles, should be the next player to see his playing time dwindle, if he can't be more than a $16 million singles hitter. This offense needs Young to be a difference-maker.

Mitch Moreland's return from the disabled list gives Washington options at first base and designated hitter against right-handed pitchers. Mike Napoli can play first base or DH against left-handers on days Geovany Soto, acquired Monday, is catching.

Or Washington can use some other combination of players at first base and DH.

The point is the Rangers have entered the point of the season when winning is all that matters.

This isn't May or June. The Rangers no longer have what seems like an insurmountable lead in the division. This is winning time.

"It's going to go down to the wire," general manger Jon Daniels said. "All three clubs are going to fight for it, and we want to put our best foot forward. Ownership has stepped up in this situation."

The Rangers' owners have sacrificed their cash to acquire Dempster. Daniels sacrificed some quality low-level prospects to acquire one of the National League's best players this season.

Young will have to sacrifice playing time, if he's not producing.

And that's the key.

If Young, a seven-time All-Star, hits the way his career .302 average suggests he can, then it will render any and all discussion about his place in the lineup moot.

But if sitting Young a few games each week gives the Rangers the best chance to win to win the division, then that's what Washington must do. After all, Young has already been moved down one spot in the batting order, to sixth, in the past week.

This is all about Young's performance this season.

We know he has hit in the past. And his superb track record is why Young has earned the pass he's been given the first four months of the season.

Young remains the face of the franchise and one of the best to ever wear a Rangers uniform. We all know he'll eventually be inducted into the Rangers Hall of Fame, and he should get some well-deserved consideration for Cooperstown.

Young is a leader, he plays hard each and every day, and he has been one of the game's best hitters for a decade.

Not anymore.

Young isn't in a slump. A slump lasts a couple of weeks. Perhaps, a month. Or two.

Young has struggled to hit, his greatest asset, for much of the season. His OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) entering Tuesday's game was .640. Only four players in the AL have a lower OPS. Just so you know, the Rangers designated Yorvit Torrealba for assignment. His OPS? .643.

Young has hit fifth or sixth much of the season, a run-producing spot in any lineup. Young has produced 86 runs -- 43 RBI and 43 runs scored -- which is sixth among the Rangers' everyday players.

Elvis Andrus has produced 12 more runs and eight more extra-base hits than Young. For the record, Young is the worst per-game run producer among regulars.

Understand, Young isn't going to like losing playing time. He's a competitor, and he has been initially adverse to change in the past, whether it was moving to third base or becoming the Rangers' super-sub.

If Young isn't hitting, then he must deal with a new role. No one player, whether it's Young or Josh Hamilton, can ever be bigger than the team.

Besides, Young's philosophical approach to the game doesn't allow him to acknowledge an extended slump or a poor season at the plate. He's always going to believe he's one at-bat or one game from a hot streak.

The reality is Young has had hot streaks at various times this season, but none have resulted in him producing runs in bunches the way Hamilton, Napoli, Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler do when they get hot.

Young hasn't homered since May 7 -- 85 days ago. He has hit into nearly as many double plays (14) as he has drawn walks (18). And he has just 22 extra-base hits -- 16 doubles, three triples and three homers.

The Rangers can't wait any longer.

Young must start hitting. Or he must start sitting.