Rua improves chances with excellent spring

Rangers like utility man's versatility, increased confidence

Rua improves chances with excellent spring

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Ryan Rua hit .297 for the Rangers in Spring Training last year and won a job as the Opening Day left fielder.

This year he is hitting .432 for the spring so he has a chance to…

"To be a part of this team," manager Jeff Banister said.

He won't be the Opening Day left fielder. That chance was lost when the Rangers signed Ian Desmond on March 1. But the fact that Desmond can also play center field seems to greatly help Rua's chances of being on the Opening Day roster.

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"Ryan Rua has helped Ryan Rua's chances of being on the Opening Day roster," Banister said.

That's evident. Rua didn't play in Friday night's 12-11 win over the Padres, but went into the game 19-for-44 with six doubles, a triple and a home run. He has a .457 on-base percentage and a .682 slugging percentage.

"It's a lot like last year, coming in and competing," Rua said. "I had the experience of last year and that has helped tremendously. It has also been a really laid-back camp. That helps the young guys to take the pressure off, go out and have fun."

The Rangers don't want Rua too laid-back.

"Our challenge to Ryan was to play the game fast," Banister said. "That doesn't mean he's a fast, fast guy, just play the game quicker and not so methodical. … He has been more confident and aggressive."

The Rangers know Rua can play left. He has also shown he can play first base with defensive ability that Banister said ranks right up there with Mitch Moreland. That could be crucial as the Rangers consider different permutations of their Opening Day roster.

One of those is having 13-man pitching staff and a three-man bench. If that's the case, the Rangers need a backup behind Delino DeShields. That's not going to be Rua, but he could play left with Desmond sliding to center when necessary. Rua also covers the Rangers at first in a three-man bench. Otherwise either utility infielder Hanser Alberto or Pedro Ciriaco would have to be the backup first baseman.

Rua has also played other infield positions in his career, but the Rangers want him to focus this spring on first base and left field.

"Whatever is best for the team," Rua said. "Whether that is a utility role or whatever. I have played multiple positions. I have infield experience that's helped me out at first base. I feel comfortable in the outfield. Whatever the team needs, it's about winning, it's about the fans, and the people who take pride in the organization and care about it."

All of this might not matter if Rua had not suffered a sprained right ankle and a fractured heel in the home opener last year. He wasn't activated until June 19 and never recaptured his swing. He hit .193 in 28 games with the Rangers and .197 in 40 games with Triple-A Round Rock before going home to marry Courtney Jarvis and try to forget the 2015 season.

He does wonder what might have been…

"Sometimes," Rua said. "But I put that behind me in the offseason and [try to] not think about it. Hopefully I have put myself in a position to help the team out."

Rua may end up as the new David Murphy. For six straight springs, from 2008-13, Murphy would show up in camp as the Rangers fourth outfielder answering the same tedious questions about where he would play and how much.

But what people thought would happen and what actually happened were always different things. Murphy never had fewer than 400 at-bats in those six seasons and was an integral part of two World Series teams.

Murphy could hit. If Rua keeps hitting, the Rangers will find a spot for him.

"I don't worry about it," Rua said. "My approach this spring is to take each day and have good at-bats. If I have a bad at-bat, let it go and get ready for the next one."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.