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Rangers can't wait long for Prince Fielder to find his swing

Prince Fielder is struggling at the plate this season, but manager Jeff Banister has his back for the time being. Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Prince Fielder's attitude isn’t changing no matter how low his batting average goes.

So you can stop waiting.

His work ethic isn’t changing either -- at least not in this lifetime.

But he does want the miserable results from the first two months of this season -- a .192 average with three homers and 29 RBIs -- to change ASAP.

“I can’t sit around here beating myself up,” Fielder said Wednesday, “because there are enough people doing that. I don’t need to do it, too.”

Understand, Fielder isn’t hoping his production magically increases because expecting change without work is lunacy.

“I’m trying to be an adult about the situation,” said Fielder, the Texas Rangers' first baseman. “Just because you didn’t get a hit doesn’t mean you had a bad at-bat, and just because you got a hit doesn’t mean you had a good at-bat. I’m putting the work in. What else can you do? It is what it is.”

Right now, that’s not good.

Fielder, a career .283 hitter, is in the most prolonged slump of his 12-year career. He has spent much of his career hitting third or fourth in the lineup as one of baseball’s most feared hitters, hitting more than 30 homers six times and more than 40 twice. But all of that seems like a lifetime ago.

The Rangers expect more from the 32-year-old Fielder, who has four years and $72 million left on his contract. And they’re going to need considerably more from him to continue leading the AL West with the best record in the American League.

“He’s not happy. He knows who he is and who he wants to be, and he’s working his ass off to get back to that,” manager Jeff Banister said. “I love the determination.”

Still, Banister benched Fielder -- the manager calls it unplugging -- for two games last week to free the slugger’s mind. When he returned to the lineup Monday, Fielder hit sixth -- the lowest spot in which he has started since 2006 -- but he had made a small adjustment to his swing.

“Sometimes, you put the bat down to clear your brain and clear your eyes,” Banister said. “You can get in the cage and take a million swings or you can get in the cage and slow things down, find the rhythm and find the timing.

“Sometimes just taking pitches, tracking pitches -- swing and track, swing and track -- and being patient works. It’s not just hitting the ball off a tee. It’s not just hitting soft toss. It’s hitting off a machine. It’s video and, sometimes, you have to be bold enough to walk away from the bat for a while.”

Instead of using a toe-tap to trigger his swing, Fielder kept his front toe on the ground throughout the swing. The result: two hits on Monday. It was just his sixth multihit game of the season. (This time last season he had 29 multihit games.)

But after striking out three times on Tuesday and popping out twice in his first two official at-bats Wednesday, the toe-tap returned in the eighth inning, and Fielder delivered a single to center.

“Look, most athletes are perfectionists,” Banister said. “When things are going wrong, they want to work harder. I think Prince has done a really good job of trying to work smarter -- analyzing his swing where his rhythm is and being bold enough to make an adjustment.

“Not a lot of guys at this point of their career, who have the numbers he has, try to make that adjustment.”

Fielder, as you would expect, has lost confidence at the plate. He trusts his ability, but he doesn’t trust his eyes. He’s swinging at bad pitches, getting behind in the count. Then, because he’s worried about swinging at bad pitches, he’ll take a hittable pitch for a strike. And when he does swing at a good pitch, he doesn’t get the barrel on the ball.

It’s a vicious cycle, and it could account for Fielder’s inability to hit fastballs this season, especially with Banister insisting Fielder hasn’t lost bat speed.

According to ESPN Stats & Info Fielder had hit more than .300 against fastballs four times since 2009, and he had never hit less than .272 (2013). Last year, he hit .347 against fastballs.

This season? He’s hitting .279 against fastballs.

“I can’t get mad,” Fielder said. “I just have to keep working. Besides, we’re winning, and that’s the most important thing. We’ve got a good team.”

Jurickson Profar, who can play every infield position and DH, has forced his way into the lineup four times a week, and Joey Gallo looms in Triple-A with a .287 average, 10 homers and 27 RBI. And fans are screaming for change on social media.

“Fans have two things to invest: their emotion and their money,” Banister said. “My investment goes way deeper. I invest in the person. I also look at facts and feelings.

“I evaluate these guys daily. It’s up to me to make decisions that help this ball club win. And it’s not just the balls and the bats. It’s the human being.”

Banister will give Fielder every opportunity to re-establish himself as one of the game’s best hitters.

But he won’t wait forever. He can’t.