Byrd's confidence remains high
Texas outfielder envisions being in Opening Day lineup
MESA, Ariz. -- Marlon Byrd was in right field for the Rangers on Monday and should be in the same spot a week from now on Opening Day in Seattle.At least he sees it that way, even if some doubt still lingers. "I would assume so," Byrd said. "Nobody has told me different. If I had to put money on it, I would bet that I would be here." The reason there might be some doubt is because of what's going on with the Cubs and their outfield. Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said before Monday's game with the Rangers that he wants to add a right-handed-hitting outfielder before Opening Day and it's well-known that Byrd has been on his list. "I put it on myself," Hendry said. "I've been out there for a while saying we need another outfielder who can play all three spots. ... Now it's time for me to deliver, to be honest. We could play with what we have. I would feel better about my contributions to the club in Spring Training if we could add somebody before Opening Day." The Rangers and the Cubs have been talking about Byrd for two months, but the discussions appear to be coming to an unsuccessful conclusion. The Rangers want young pitching back in any deal and the Cubs refuse to do that. Instead, they have turned their attention to Reed Johnson, who was released on Sunday by the Toronto Blue Jays. This all comes down to Byrd being more valuable to the Rangers than what they might get for him in a trade. David Murphy, hitting .392 after going 2-for-3 with three RBIs on Monday, has made a big push for an everyday job and it might be that Rangers envision Byrd in the same fourth outfielder role that the Cubs need to fill. But the Rangers also know that their fourth outfielder will play a much more prominent role on their team than on others. Milton Bradley is scheduled to play the outfield for the first time on Tuesday but only for three innings and he is still expected to be the Rangers designated hitter on Opening Day. The Rangers aren't sure when he'll be able to play nine innings in the outfield. "We're going to get him some innings out there and see how he moves around," manager Ron Washington said. "He'll tell me when he's ready to play nine." Until then Byrd will likely be in right, where he has made 13 of his 21 starts this spring. He has started five times in center field and three times in left. The Rangers also know they, like the Cubs, will need a right-handed-hitting center fielder. As much as the Rangers love Josh Hamilton, they understand he will need time off this summer and they'll feel fortunate if they can get him in at least 140 games.
Byrd has struggled to get his bat going, but has reinforced his value with his versatility and his defense. He threw out two runners trying for extra bases in Monday's loss to the Cub and last week, he made two terrific running catches in a start where Luis Mendoza held the Athletics to one run in five innings. He wouldn't have done that if not for the two catches by Byrd."His overall play has been much better," Washington said. "His offense is not in sync yet, but the overall game is good. He's running the bases, playing defense and throwing well." Poor defensive play hurt Byrd in Spring Training last year and he was sent to Triple-A Oklahoma right before the season began, because the Rangers were disappointed with that part of his game. He was recalled on May 26 and ended up being one of the bright spots of an otherwise rough season, hitting .307 with 10 home runs and 70 RBIs in 100 games and 414 at-bats. He hasn't hit that well this spring. An 8-for-28 spurt managed to pull his average up to .193 going to Monday's game, then he went 0-for-3 against Ryan Dempster. "I've been going back and forth," Byrd said. "I've had some good at-bats but I haven't had the consistency. I go back and forth, a good at-bat, then a bad one and then a good one again. I need to put two or three good ones in a row. It's the right time to do it." For the Rangers, not the Cubs.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.