Rangers' deep roster is insurance policy
Hamilton's injury hurts, but Murphy and others can keep blow from being too painful
DETROIT -- Losing the 2010 AL MVP would be the kind of blow that might send most teams to the mat, never to get up again.
Though the Texas Rangers might be staggered a bit, they aren't likely to get knocked out with this punch.
Texas can recover from the loss of Josh Hamilton for two months. Hamilton's slide into home plate in the first inning -- a play that wasn't his idea and one that he called "stupid" -- resulted in a small fracture of a bone at the top of his right arm and just below the shoulder. The normal recovery time is six to eight weeks. And Hamilton won't even pick up a bat for a month.
So gone from the lineup is a guy that hit .359 with 32 homers and 100 RBIs last year. But he does much more than that. He covers ridiculous ground in the outfield, whether in left or center. He utilizes his speed on the bases. He anchors the middle of the Rangers' lineup and has a knack for impacting most games.
But if there's one lineup that can absorb a hit like this and stay in the fight, it's the Rangers.
"This is why depth is so important," general manager Jon Daniels said.
The Rangers know this is part of the deal when you have a player like Hamilton. He's been injury prone since his professional career began. He missed a month in 2007 with the Cincinnati Reds because of a sprained right wrist. He played in just 89 games in 2009 thanks to a strained muscle in his rib cage, a tear in his abdominal muscle and a pinched nerve in his back. Hamilton missed the final month of the 2010 regular season with fractures in two ribs after banging into the center-field wall in Minnesota.
Now another broken bone has him out for probably two months. It means that in five seasons in the majors, Hamilton will have played more than 135 games in a season only once (2008).
For a player like that, you need insurance. Few policies protect a club better than David Murphy.
Murphy is no Hamilton. Then again, who is? But the 29-year-old is no slouch, either. Murphy is a guy who could start in most major league outfields. Every season the questions surface as to how much playing time he's going to get with Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Julio Borbon. Yet by the end of the season, he has more than 400 at-bats and has proven to be a consistent force in the lineup.
Murphy was a huge offensive producer when Hamilton missed last September, batting .355 with three homers and 17 RBIs in that final month of the season.
It's times like these that the Rangers are thankful they didn't attempt to deal Murphy, instead opting to keep him as the critical fourth outfielder.
"The reality is we built the club to deal with things like this," Daniels said. "That's why we built this team as deep as possible."
That depth will be tested now. Murphy assumes an everyday role in left field. Borbon, who has struggled to start the season, will be the primary center fielder while Cruz continues to roam in right field. Mitch Moreland becomes the fourth outfielder and Chris Davis, called up from Triple-A, will see some time at first base and is the newest bench player.
Manager Ron Washington must find a way to configure the lineup to get the most out of a team that is void of its MVP. He has to find someone to bat third. When Hamilton went out of the lineup in September, he moved Murphy to that No. 3 spot. He could do that again. Then he could decide if he wants to leave Adrian Beltre at cleanup or move Nelson Cruz up. The good news: Washington has options.
"You don't know who's going to get hurt," Daniels said. "You have to be prepared for it and that's why we have quality players like David Murphy to step in."
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This also gives Davis an opportunity to show what he can do. The infielder has hit well in the minor leagues but hasn't been able to carry it over to the majors. He tore up the Cactus League this spring training but didn't have a spot on the roster with Moreland, Michael Young and Mike Napoli able to play first base.
We'll now see if this depth the Rangers have worked to acquire can steady them through the next two months while the MVP is sidelined. In that span, they'll face the Yankees twice and play 16 games against rivals in the AL West.
If Hamilton returns in eight weeks, he'd be back around the time the team travels to Minnesota, the Yankees and Atlanta, tied for their longest road trip of the season.
By then, the Rangers hope their depth still has them in contention in the AL West and in position for Hamilton to provide a big boost.
Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.
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