When will Prince Fielder start hitting like Prince Fielder?

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Moving from the Tigers to the Rangers and their hitter-friendly ballpark was supposed to help get Prince Fielder back on track after a solid but unspectacular 2013 season that saw him set career-lows in homers, slugging percentage, and OPS.

Instead he’s off to a terrible start in Texas, hitting .200 with two homers and a .643 OPS through 26 games. Not surprisingly Rangers manager Ron Washington told reporters that he’s confident Fielder will turn things around soon:

I don’t lack confidence in Prince Fielder one iota. I don’t care about average. I don’t care that he has two home runs. I don’t care that [catcher Robinson] Chirinos has one RBI more than him. I know you guys are searching to find out. If we knew, we’d have fixed it. We’ve just got to wait. I’ve got patience.

That’s all reasonable and I’m certainly the last person in the world to portray a good hitter’s struggles for the first month of the season as a huge deal, but here’s the thing: Fielder hasn’t been himself for a while now.

Dating back to the beginning of last season he’s now hit .268 with a .358 on-base percentage and .438 slugging percentage in 188 games and 825 plate appearances. Those are decent numbers for some random player, but not for a guy with a $214 million contract and a .550 slugging percentage over the previous six seasons.

Detroit (and now Texas) paid Fielder huge money to put up huge numbers offensively and he’s nearing 200 games of not doing that, which is a big problem for a guy who brings nothing to the table defensively. He’ll no doubt get on track and start producing for the Rangers, but are we nearing the point where it’s reasonable to ask if Fielder’s days of being an elite slugger could be gone?

He’ll turn 30 years old in two weeks and Fielder is under contract for $24 million per season through 2020.

A.J. Hinch: “We’ll use every pitcher in Game 7 if we have to”

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It’s not entirely clear why the Astros threw Ken Giles into the ninth inning of Game 6 of the ALCS. With a six-run advantage and the bottom half of the Yankees’ lineup due up, pushing the series to its seven-game capacity looked like a sure bet. Giles may be one of Houston’s better bullpen arms, but he’s not their only option, and it would have made more sense to keep him fresh for a do-or-die Game 7 on Saturday night.

Of course, there’s no such thing as a sure bet when it comes to postseason baseball. That’s more or less what Astros’ manager A.J. Hinch had to say after the game, telling reporters that he had envisioned a quick three outs from his closer as they tried to pull back from the brink of elimination. “We didn’t have the luxury of limping into that inning,” Hinch said. “We’ve seen how these guys can explode in these innings.”

It’s not difficult to recall the Yankees’ explosive drive in the eighth inning of Game 4, when they exploited the holes in Houston’s ‘pen and evened the series with Gary Sanchez‘s go-ahead double off of Giles. Back home in Minute Maid Park, however, there was a slightly different feel to the eighth and ninth innings of Game 6. Jose Altuve led off the eighth with a solo home run, followed by Alex Bregman‘s two-run double and Evan Gattis‘ sac fly. In the ninth, Giles labored through a 23-pitch outing to lock down the win, handing out a base hit and a seven-pitch walk before eventually whiffing Chase Headley on three straight pitches for the last out.

So, while Hinch’s decision to lean on Giles in Game 6 may have felt wasteful, his concerns were not entirely unfounded. He’s prepared to roll with the same strategy during Saturday’s series finale, too, leaving nothing on the table as the Astros battle for their first World Series showdown since 2005. According to Dallas Keuchel, that means all hands on deck — except for Justin Verlander, whose four wins, 24 strikeouts and 1.46 postseason ERA have gotten the Astros as far as he could possibly be expected to take them. “No pitcher is going to be in the dugout,” said Keuchel. “They’re all going to be in the bullpen, myself included. Any way we can help out, we’re trying to get to the World Series, the same way the Yankees are, and that’s a nice feeling to have.”

Does that mean Giles will be available for a Game 7 appearance? Stranger things have happened. Joe Sheehan notes that the right-hander has pitched in back-to-back days 13 times this year, though he’s never thrown as many as 23 pitches on Day 1. Granted, he likely doesn’t have enough left in the tank for another 20+ pitch run on Saturday, but with the World Series on the line, any help he can offer will be invaluable.