<
>

Can't afford to overlook Moreland

Completely healed after wrist surgery in November 2011, Mitch Moreland spent the offseason getting into the best shape of his professional life. Ron Jenkins/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Getty Images

ARLINGTON, Texas - Yu Darvish and Justin Verlander faced off Thursday night and we automatically figured we'd get a pitchers' duel, featuring two of the American League's best.

Verlander stunk and the Texas Rangers knocked him out in the third inning. Somehow, Darvish lasted eight innings and 130 pitches.

See, this is why you should never, ever try to figure out baseball. It dances to its own melody.

That's why most of the conversation Friday morning will focus on Darvish's pitch count instead of the show Mitch Moreland put on Thursday night.

Too bad.

Moreland was sensational. Again.

At the plate. And in the field.

Moreland, continuing a monthlong hot streak, drove in three runs with a pair of doubles and made a couple of outstanding defensive plays to help the Rangers beat the Detroit Tigers 10-4.

Moreland, his right wrist completely healed and feeling good after surgery in November 2011 to remove a bone, spent the offseason getting into the best shape of professional life.

He went on a strict, high-protein, low-carb diet and an intense workout regimen. Although Moreland was never fat, his body is now lean and sinewy instead of soft.

Then it was all about his wrist.

In his first two seasons with the Rangers, Moreland showed power to center and left-center because he was strong enough to stay back on balls and hit them where they were pitched.

After the injury, his wrists were weaker. So when the bat traveled through the hitting zone, his wrists either flipped and he got up under the ball, lofting harmless fly balls, or his wrists gave out under the stress of the swing and he hit weak balls to the left side.

To generate power, Moreland started his swing earlier to make sure he could get through the hitting zone, resulting in him pulling the ball to generate power.

Moreland is country strong.

He's more than powerful enough to hit it out to center, left-center or right-center, if he hits it well. And that's what we're seeing this year.

Last year, eight of Moreland's 15 homers went to right field. This season, only two of his nine homers have been pulled to right field.

But it's not like his season started great.

Moreland was hitting .157 with two homers and four RBIs on April 20. Since then, he has hit .373 with 14 runs scored, 17 RBIs and seven homers. And, get this, he has 12 multi-hit games.

His left-handed swing is built to hit homers in the Rangers' home ballpark, with its notorious jet stream carrying the ball out to right field. But it's still sweet enough to let him hit for a high average.

While Geovany Soto's home run to left knocked Verlander out in the third and gave the Rangers a five-run lead, Moreland's terrific at-bat provided the opportunity.

With the bases loaded and the score tied, Moreland fell behind in the count 0-2. Verlander tried to get Moreland to chase a slider in the dirt, but it stayed thigh high and Moreland drilled it into the right-field corner for a two-run double and a 5-3 lead.

In the fifth inning, Moreland made a terrific scoop on a low throw that bounced from Soto on a chopper in front of the plate by Torii Hunter. Then he made a diving stop on Miguel Cabrera's line drive and flipped to Darvish for the second out in the fourth.

In the bottom of the inning, Moreland drove in another run when he ripped a run-scoring double to left-center, pushing the lead to 9-4.

That hit came off a lefty.

After a 1-for-19 start against lefties this season, Moreland is hitting .410 (16 for 39) against them.

Wow.

Talk to enough folks in the Rangers' organization and they'll tell you Moreland's performance this season is no fluke.

Finally, he's healthy.

And he's playing like the dude who made the Rangers feel OK about trading former first basemen Chris Davis and Justin Smoak.

"He told me in spring training that he was healthy and ready to play," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "All I told him was not to look over his shoulder, because I was going to give him more than enough time to prove he deserved the position.

"And I didn't want him comparing himself to other first baseman, because Mitch can use the entire field and most of them can't," he said. "He's doing what he told me he could do."

And it's among the reasons the Rangers have baseball's best record.