MIAMI — Former assistant general manager A.J. Preller has swooped in for his first hire from the Texas Rangers’ front office, plucking longtime friend Don Welke to be the Vice President of Scouting Operations with the San Diego Padres.The Preller-Welke reunion should come as no surprise, and the Rangers granted the Padres permission to interview the 72-year-old. Welke started his new job Tuesday, and his first assignment was to watch the Padres’ Double A affiliate, San Antonio, play the Rangers’ affiliate in Frisco.San Diego hired Preller on Aug. 6 to be its GM, but the Rangers had put in place a two-year freeze before Preller could raid the Rangers’ staff. The caveat, though, was that the Rangers could grant permission if asked.Welke worked for the Rangers in 2005 and rejoined them in 2007 after a year in Philadelphia under Hall of Fame GM Pat Gillick. Gillick allowed Welke to make his own decision then, and the Rangers followed the same course.“It’s been very special working with the group,” he said. “We built it into something special. I think it’s good now even with all the injuries.”General manager Jon Daniels has been one of the members of the Rangers’ front office picking up the duties Preller vacated. He and Welke were key members of the Rangers’ operation in Latin America, though health issues have limited Welke from traveling there much the past few years.The Rangers are working on restructuring their front office, Daniels said. Mike Daly, who spent seven years in Latin America before becoming farm director last off-season, will continue to assist there but will remain focused on the farm system.Martinez homecomingRight-hander Nick Martinez couldn’t ask for more this season when it has come to where he has started road games. On Wednesday, he’ll be starting in his hometown.The start comes four months after his big league debut in his home state, at Tampa Bay, and a month after he pitched at Yankee Stadium, only minutes from his college stamping ground at Fordham.“I can’t pick which one is more special,” Martinez said.But the rookie tried to emphasize that pitching close to his boyhood home won’t be a distraction. There will be plenty of family and friends at Marlins Park, just as there were at Tropicana Field and Yankee Stadium, but Martinez said that he has seen more games in New York than here.Another sign that the shine isn’t quite as bright?“This is the only place I’m not getting them tickets,” said Martinez, who is 2-9 with a 5.27 ERA. “It’ll be the same hype as most other big league starts.”ChallengedRangers outfielders Shin-Soo Choo, Alex Rios and Leonys Martin answered the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge after Choo’s son Alan put them on the clock.“I told him I’m a DH, not an outfielder,” Choo said. “It was cold, but I’m really happy to do it. A lot, a lot of people are trying to help.”The reward for participants is to challenge others. Choo picked a Korean photographer and friend, Rios picked athletic trainer Kevin Harmon, and Martin selected shortstop Elvis Andrus, who dislikes the cold.Manager Ron Washington hasn’t been challenged. Yet.“I guess I’ll have to sit there and take it,” Washington said. “My players won’t do that to me. They know better.”Rios was scratched from the lineup in the opener against Miami, but not because of anything that happened in the challenge. A lingering bruise in his right thumb kept him from being able to hit.Minors injuriesRight-hander Corey Knebel, one of two pitchers acquired in a trade with Detroit for Joakim Soria, has been shut down with a mild strain of the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow.The plans calls for Knebel to rest, have a scan Oct. 1 and resume throwing Nov. 1. Surgery has not been indicated at this point, Daniels said.Also, right-hander Wilmer Font underwent surgery to have a bone spur removed from his elbow, and he is expected to be ready for spring training.Outfielder Engel Beltre, who was recently removed from a rehab assignment for a second time because of lingering issues with a broken left tibia, will visit Dr. Keith Meister for another exam, and a new plan will be concocted as soon as Wednesday.
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST