The Prince’s comeback … and other thoughts

Prince Fielder is listed on the Rangers’ roster at 275 pounds, which means it’s a little harder for him to hit his weight than, say, Leonys Martin, who at .215 and 190 pounds, is struggling to do that.

Fielder’s 275 seems a nice round number, the way NBA guards all seemingly round up to 6-foot-5. The scale Fielder used for 275 must have been set on minus 10 when he stepped on it. Or maybe Charles Barkley weighed him.

Fielder barely hit that much in 2013 (.279 and a career-low 25 home runs) and didn’t in an abbreviated 2014, when he hit just .247 and three home runs in 178 plate appearances.

Fielder is an easy target, because everything about him is big: his build, his contract, his home runs. But give him credit in 2015. At an age (31) when he could be declining, coming off surgery, with six more seasons and $120 million assured, he’s off to one of his best starts.

Ask the Yankees. Fielder hit as many home runs last weekend in New York as he did in all of 2014. He missed a fourth homer by inches, hitting the top of the right-field wall; on that one Prince got all the way to first.

It’s easy to empathize with Fielder — who among us doesn’t have a waist size that’s increasing like the Rockies’ team ERA — but it should be hard to forget what a good hitter he’s been, and is again. Twice his OPS has topped 1.000 (a third time he was at .981), once he’s hit 50 home runs in a season, once he’s knocked in 141 runs and three times he’s been a top-five finisher for the MVP. It wasn’t for his foot speed or defense.

Fielder had three hits for four straight games last week, and half of those were for extra bases. (In one of the Rangers’ many celebrations at the plate, Fielder playfully bashed Adrian Beltre in the back of the helmet, looking like a giant puppy who doesn’t know the size of his own paws.)

After making like Ichiro in April — one home run, six doubles, 22 singles and a .333 average — Prince has been Prince in May, hitting nine home runs and seven doubles and slugging .717 for the month.

Fielder is hitting .368 for the season, and there aren’t many infield hits among them. He’s slugging .589, and his 1.008 OPS is fourth in the AL behind Nelson Cruz, Miguel Cabrera and Stephen Vogt. With four months still to play, Fielder is as likely to win the award no one wants to — Comeback Player of the Year, because who wants to endure the comedown — as Bryce Harper is to be NL MVP. (There’s a case for the Mets’ Matt Harvey, but given the difference in age and surgery, here’s one early vote for Fielder).

Fielder has been so good this month you have to wonder if two of his previous employers would like baseball mulligans. The Tigers were praised for dealing Fielder for second baseman Ian Kinsler, and understandably so. But would they be better today with Fielder instead of Victor Martinez (.216 average, .578 OPS) at DH, Devon Travis instead of Kinsler (homerless in 186 at-bats) at second and Rajai Davis instead of Anthony Gose (acquired for Travis; with nine walks and 40 strikeouts, he’s unlikely to maintain his .338 average) in center?

The Brewers kept Ryan Braun instead of Fielder, as they should have; Braun was the 2011 NL MVP and 2012 runner-up. But since then he’s hit only 40 home runs to Fielder’s 35, missing time to injury and suspension, and his actions in the Biogenesis scandal were painful for the franchise.

It seems a safe bet that’s the kind of scandal Fielder won’t endure. One look at his physique tells you the only artificial ingredient he’s ingested is sweetener.

That’s all hindsight, of course, which is a little like hitting with a 3-1 count and the bases full: it’s easier when you know what’s coming.

There’s no way of knowing how many years like this one Fielder has left, though, and it’s often been suggested he won’t last long with his build. He won’t either. Don’t believe it? Look at David Ortiz, who’s hitting just .216 for the Red Sox.

He’s only 39.

A few other random thoughts:

  • The Astros’ Josh Fields has an 0.77 ERA, .414 OPS against and 20 strikeouts in his first 11.2 innings. Think the Red Sox regret not protecting him in the 2012 Rule 5 draft?
  • Least surprising news of the season: Kyle Blanks to the disabled list. As usual, Blanks was hitting — .322 with a .907 OPS in 63 plate appearances — when he was sidelined for surgery to remove a pilonidal cyst. Blanks has spent so much of his career on the DL, perhaps it should be renamed in his honor. Like the Mendoza Line. Poor Blanks is “day to day” when he’s healthy.
  • Look at the Angels and what do you see? Mike Trout plus the Athletics, with apologies to the A’s. Trout is having a 2015 much like his 2014, but his teammates aren’t. Trout has a .929 OPS, 182 points higher than the team runner-up (Kole Calhoun at .747), and has scored 35 runs, or 14 more than anyone else on the team. David Freese, who leads the team in RBIs with 27 (a third of those were scored by Trout), has but a .676 OPS. The Angels are 26th in runs scored in MLB and 29th in OPS — with Trout. They’d be last in both without him. Trout was the AL MVP in 2014 and was second the two previous years, but he probably won’t get as much recognition this year — Nelson Cruz, Miguel Cabrera and even Fielder will see to that. But the Angels are 23-24, and nothing attests to Trout’s value more than that. They’re a wretched team without him.
  • Elvis Andrus got his 1,000th career hit earlier this month, and no, not all of them have been singles. But Andrus is not yet 27, which means at this pace, he could reach a total that makes him seem a much better player than he’s been. This is his seventh season, and Andrus’ OPS has hovered between .647 and .720 in every one of them. This year he’s at .620. Remember Andrus when reading about career numbers and milestones, because his 1,000 hits by age 26 prove if you start early enough and persist long enough, you can do more than you ever should have.
  • The Yankees’ Mark Teixeira has 37 hits this season, 23 for extra bases. He has as many home runs (14) as he does singles (14). Sometimes it is best to just hit over the shift.
  • The Minnesota Twins, who have won 70, 66, 66 and 63 games the previous four seasons, are tied for first place at 28-18 in manager Paul Molitor’s first year. Imagine where they would be if Hall of Famers could only manage.
  • The Marlins are 2-8 since firing manager Mike Redmond, the Brewers 9-14 since firing Ron Roenicke. What next?
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