Laird nabs starting backstop job
Melhuse to serve as Rangers' backup catcher in 2008
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Rangers have resolved their catching situation, naming Gerald Laird as the starter, Adam Melhuse as the backup and sending Jarrod Saltalamacchia to Triple-A Oklahoma.Laird and Saltalamacchia came to camp in head-to-head competition for the starting job, but a heated battle never really materialized. Laird was the early leader in camp based on his defense and experience and never gave the Rangers reason to think otherwise. The Rangers believe Saltalamacchia has improved, but not to the point where he is ready to take Laird's job away. "Gerald came in here as the incumbent," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "We are very fortunate that we have two guys of Major League caliber, but only one could get it. Salty is a guy who needs to play, he doesn't need to sit around." The Rangers discussed the possibility of Saltalamacchia being Laird's backup and a possible right-handed designated hitter, but that idea was discarded. The Rangers prefer Saltalamacchia to play every day at Oklahoma. "I'm a little disappointed," Saltalamacchia said. "I did everything I could possibly do and left everything on the field. At the end of the day, it wasn't good enough. That could upset you, but you just have to take it and go to Triple-A. "I know I'm good and I know I'm going to be good. I just have to go down there and prove it even more. People are worried that I'm going to go down there and complain, but I'm not. I'll still play hard no matter what. It's going to work itself out. I'm going to bust my tail no matter where I'm at. I'm going to be here some day. I'll be back." Said Washington, "He's showed a lot of maturity. He was disappointed, but we would have been disappointed if he wasn't disappointed. He still has a bright future."
Laird was the Rangers' Opening Day catcher in 2007 and had a rough year, hitting .224 with nine home runs and 47 RBIs, while having to deal every night with an injury-riddled pitching staff. He still had a good year throwing out basestealers, nailing 39.8 percent of them, the second-highest percentage in the American League.Laird's future though came into doubt on July 31, when the Rangers acquired Saltalamacchia and four other players from the Atlanta Braves for first baseman Mark Teixeira. Laird and Saltalamacchia split time over the final two months of last season. That set up the position battle this spring and Laird responded to the challenge. "I was confident I could be the starting catcher," Laird said. "I just want to make sure I [take] care of business, work with the pitching staff and take a leadership role on the team. They've seen that and it worked out into a starting catching job. "Last year was a humbling experience. I didn't do as well as I thought and it was a humbling experience. I learn from it and I grow from it, making myself a better player."
Washington said Laird should be a better player after going through the adversity he faced in the 2007 season."He's had a great spring," Washington said. "He's shown a lot of maturity in being a leader. He's adjusted his swing in taking it to the opposite field more. He stood up and kept his job. I'm very pleased." Melhuse came into camp almost as an afterthought. He hit .206 for the Rangers after being given away by the Athletics in June and was released on Aug. 28. The Rangers gave him a Minor League contract this offseason with an invitation to Spring Training, and he came into camp as one of the most improved players on the team. Melhuse has had some back problems over the past two seasons, but he has cleared that up and is hitting .292 this spring with two home runs and six RBIs. His throwing and receiving are also much improved. "Last year, I was terrible," Melhuse said. "I'm not offering any excuses, but last year they saw just a fraction of the player that I am. This spring, I really put the focus on myself, not what was going on around me. I knew what would happen to those other guys would affect me, but I just want to get healthy and fix what was going on in my back. I did that and I feel 100 percent. My arm feels good and my back feels good." Now, he is back in the Major Leagues. The Rangers catching situation is settled.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.