Byrd's big spring may push Andruw out
Rangers weigh options as outfielders head in different directions
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- A significant moment occurred in the third inning of the Rangers' 11-5 victory over the Indians on Tuesday.
Marlon Byrd went from first to third on David Murphy's weak single to left-center. Byrd was about to stop at second but saw left-fielder Matt LaPorta was slow to the ball and accelerated quickly around the bag. He beat the throw easily to third."I'm there," Byrd said afterward. "It's about time to turn it up." It's clear Byrd is going to be ready for Opening Day. Andruw Jones, it appears, isn't going to be needed. Any concerns about Byrd's surgically-repaired knee are disappearing, and all signs point toward Jones not making the Rangers coming out of camp. "I don't know if we had concerns about Marlon coming into camp, but we did know he wasn't 100 percent," manager Ron Washington said. "We just wanted to take it slow so he didn't have any setbacks. Now he's swinging the bat, playing great outfield and running the bases well. It shows what we're trying to do." The third-inning play is something both Byrd and the Rangers needed to see in order to feel that the knee is not an issue. With 2 1/2 weeks to go, his speed is a factor again. Byrd, who had microfracture surgery last Oct. 1, is not thinking about the knee when he's out on the field. "I didn't feel anything," Byrd said. "The doctor said I'd be 100 percent when I went out there and didn't think about the knee -- just went out and played. That's what happened there. If I come in tomorrow and feel the same way, then I'm there." Byrd, facing Indians left-hander Cliff Lee, was used at designated hitter on Tuesday. David Murphy, Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz started in the outfield and Hank Blalock -- the Rangers regular DH -- is still sidelined with tightness in his left quadriceps muscle. Jones, the biggest threat to Byrd this spring, did his work in a Minor League game. Batting leadoff in every inning, Jones went 2-for-5 with a double, a walk and a stolen base. He is hitting .258 with 14 strikeouts in 31 at-bats in Cactus League games, and his once-great defensive ability has not shown up in the field. Technically, the Rangers have to decide by Friday if they'll put him on the Major League roster, but it seems quite clear they have no interest in doing that.
Top Ten AL outfielders by batting average (2007-08)
The bigger question is how the Rangers will divide playing time among the four outfielders they will keep. Byrd was 2-for-4 on Tuesday and has 10 hits in his last 20 at-bats. He is hitting .364 (12-for-33) on the spring but doesn't know if that will get him in the Opening Day lineup."I know I'm going to be the fourth outfielder whether Andruw makes the team or not," Byrd said. "I just have to get ready for the season. I might not be in the lineup on Opening Day and I might not be in there for awhile, but I need to be ready to go when I'm in there." Washington seems set on an outfield that has Murphy in left, Hamilton in center and Cruz in right. Byrd will have to play all three outfield positions and could be used at DH if Blalock needs a day off against certain left-handers. Washington has insisted from the beginning of Spring Training that Byrd will get his at-bats. Byrd said he believes him. "I believe the thought process is to get me my at-bats," Byrd said. "But if we have three outfielders who are killing the ball, I'm not going to walk into the manager's office and say, 'You need to get me in the game.' From a selfish side, I have to play my game and do well to put the pressure on them to play me." He was in this position last spring. His strong start this time around is a sign that he is handling it better. His knee was a problem last spring and he hit .211. But Byrd admitted he was also bothered by constant speculation that he was going to get traded to the Cubs and let it affect his play. "Last year, clouded mind, this year, clear mind," Byrd said. "I have so many things going on this spring that could affect me if I let it. But I'm putting everything I have in focusing on the game and let everything else play out." That includes his contract status. Byrd is a free agent after this season, and nobody has expressed any urgency to sign him beyond 2009. With Julio Borbon rising within the farm system, there may not be any urgency. "We'll see," Byrd said. "Maybe I could put the Rangers in a good position by having a good year and being a Type A free agent." He is accomplished one thing this spring at least. He has all but pushed Andruw Jones out of the picture.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.