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Battle Brewing at First Base For Rangers

How Texas uses Sam Huff and Nathaniel Lowe at first base in the coming weeks could decide their immediate futures.

Look at a list of the Texas Rangers’ top prospects and you’ll see two positions by Sam Huff’s name. The first is catcher.

The second is first base.

On Wednesday in Anaheim, the Rangers threw up a test balloon to see how Huff might fare was a Major League first baseman.

Sep 23, 2020; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Texas Rangers catcher Sam Huff against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field.
May 11, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; Texas Rangers first baseman Nathaniel Lowe (30) cannot make a catch at first base as Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez (13) is ruled safe during the fifth inning at Globe Life Field.
Sep 8, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Texas Rangers second baseman Nick Solak (15) celebrates with first baseman Nathaniel Lowe (30) after scoring in the eighth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field.

The reason? Nathaniel Lowe’s offense isn’t quite where the Rangers want it.

Lowe was back in the lineup Thursday night against the Oakland Athletics, even though he saw his five-game hit streak snapped against the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday. He was hitting .316 in his past six games going into his start on Thursday. That pushed his average from a season-low .233 to .250.

On Thursday, Lowe went 1-for-3 with a walk and a two-run home run in the ninth inning, a proper response to being benched on Wednesday for a rookie.

But a larger sample size reveals that Lowe had been hitting .132 in his last 22 games to drop his average from .381 to .245. Plus, Lowe has offered little in the way of power, as 28 of his 34 hits in that span had been singles.

Lowe was the Rangers Player of the Month in April after he hit .313 with a home run and nine RBI in 21 games. He had an eight-game hitting streak in that month, too.

Now, he’s left an opening for Huff, as the Rangers are at least exploring their options.

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The Rangers want to find playing time for Huff, who entered Thursday’s game on the bench, but hitting .407 in the Majors. He has at least one hit in every start and at least one hit in 13 straight MLB games dating back to Sept. 18, 2020. He’s not showing much power in the big leagues yet, but his work in the minors — specifically the seven home runs he hit in 19 games this season at Triple A Round Rock — shows the kind of power he can eventually provide.

First base is a power position. His experience behind the plate will be an asset in picking throws out of the dirt. And playing Huff at first allows the Rangers to get all three of their bats behind the plate in the lineup on nights when they start Jonah Heim at catcher and Mitch Garver at designated hitter. That’s the configuration for the time being, since Garver can’t play catcher due to his flexor tendon.

Garver’s bat is coming around, and that’s a factor, too. His average is picking up. He was hitting .220 going into Thursday’s game and had three straight games with a home run on the road trip. The home-run streak ended with an 0-for-4 outing against the A’s.

Texas manager Chris Woodward has to find a way to get the hot bats in the lineup. And, right now, Lowe isn’t hitting at a level that matches those three players. Before Wednesday’s game, he cited Lowe’s lagging bat and three errors in the field as reasons to give Huff a spin at first base.

Apr 14, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; Texas Rangers catcher Jonah Heim (28) follows thorough on his grand slam home run against the Los Angeles Angels during the fourth inning of a baseball game at Globe Life Field. Mandatory Credit: Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 2, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; Texas Rangers relief pitcher Brett Martin (59) and catcher Jonah Heim (right) celebrates their teams win over the Cleveland Indians at Globe Life Field. Mandatory Credit: Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports
May 1, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; Texas Rangers catcher Mitch Garver (18) and starting pitcher Taylor Hearn (52) warm up before a game against the Atlanta Braves at Globe Life Field.

Bally Sports Southwest’s Dave Raymond said during Thursday’s broadcast that Huff told him that Lowe was offering encouragement and advice throughout Wednesday’s game.

Does that mean the rookie will get regular turns on the corner? Woodward told that he hasn’t committed to anything more except he wants Huff to get more at-bats. It’s worth noting that two weeks after Woodward declared speedy left fielder Eli White the leadoff man for the “foreseeable future,” second baseman Marcus Semien has been the leadoff hitter in each of the past three games.

The situation is clearly fluid. The Rangers will likely continue to give the pair chances at the corner. What they do may determine what the Rangers do when other roster issues force them to make a move.

You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard

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