SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Thursday was the big day in Rangers camp. One month into Spring Training, Sammy Sosa was officially told he is on the team. The suspense was killing absolutely nobody. He's off to a great start, and it's a tough call trying to decide who loves him more, manager Ron Washington or hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo.
What's really still unclear is just exactly how much Sosa will play, and what his role will be once the regular season begins. As general manager Jon Daniels said, "We're not going to petition for a second DH." That would be one solution, because the Rangers certainly have two of them right now: Sosa and Frank Catalanotto. Sosa bats right-handed and Catalanotto bats left-handed, which certainly brings up the possibility of a platoon situation. Right now, the Rangers have a starting outfield of Brad Wilkerson in left, Kenny Lofton in center and Nelson Cruz in right, with Marlon Byrd as the likely backup center fielder. But it's hard to believe that a player who is fifth in Major League history with 588 career home runs is going to go through an entire 162-game season playing only against left-handed starters. The Rangers did tell Sosa that was a possibility when they first talked about signing him. Sosa said he will do what the Rangers ask, and Daniels said he's taking his word on that. "If I come to the ballpark and I'm in the lineup, I'll be ready to play," Sosa said. "If I'm not in the lineup, I'll be prepared to do something else." Much could depend on Cruz, the 26-year-old right-handed hitter who has just 135 Major League at-bats with a .222 batting average, six home runs and 22 RBIs. Based on potential, physical ability and impressive Minor League numbers, Cruz is being given a chance to be the Rangers starting right fielder. But he still has to show he can hit Major League pitching consistently. The Rangers also need to make sure Wilkerson, a left-handed hitter, is all the way back after hitting .222 with 15 home runs and 44 RBIs in a disappointing 2006 season that ended in August when he underwent shoulder surgery.
An up-close look at the club as we approach Opening Day
Sosa, besides being a possible platoon designated hitter, provides a fall-back position for the Rangers in both situations."It's all going to be determined by the performance of everybody," Washington said. "If Wilkerson and Catalanotto are performing well, Sammy will be my pinch-hitter that day. They'll all find a way to get in there. I like the situation I'm in. "I'm not going to say that Sammy is going to hit against left-handers or right-handers. Those left-handers [Wilkerson and Catalanotto] will see left-handers. I'm going to make sure Wilkerson gets his at-bats, Catalanotto gets his at-bats, Sammy gets his at-bats and Cruz gets his. However, I do that, we'll figure it out that day." The main reason why the Rangers aren't fretting about it is that they know that very little ever follows form over a 162-game season, especially when it comes to their outfield. On Opening Day last year, the Rangers started with an outfield of Wilkerson, Laynce Nix and Kevin Mench with Phil Nevin as their designated hitter. That was on April 3. On Aug. 4, they had Carlos Lee in left, Gary Matthews Jr. in center, Mark DeRosa in right and Matt Stairs at designated hitter. "It's hard to predict how a season will go," Washington said. "People get hurt, people get hot, people get cold. You adjust. I need everybody. We can't be successful without everybody." But if everybody is performing well and according to expectations, Washington is going to have some interesting decisions to make on a daily basis. It could start on Opening Day when right-hander John Lackey takes the mound for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. "They make it easy with the way they get along with each other," Washington said. "There will be no jealousies. They want to win. They'll know that whoever is out there that day is the best lineup for us that day. We're not going to have any attitudes. We're a team. It's about winning."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.