In a matter of three pitches Sunday afternoon, the Texas Rangers scored the game’s first run.
Delino DeShields collected a leadoff single, stole second base and advanced to third on a throwing error on the next pitch, and scored as Nomar Mazara doubled past first base on the ensuing pitch.
It was vintage DeShields, if 2015 can be considered vintage. At the very least, that season is the baseline most have in their memory banks for the kind of player he can be and the kind of impact he can make for the Rangers’ offense.
Though only two years ago, those days are long gone. A disappointing 2016 — which started with DeShields being the Opening Day center fielder, included a demotion to Triple A Round Rock and ended with his being left off the roster for the American League Division Series — has cost him a chance to be the Rangers’ full-time center fielder.
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That job and the leadoff duties that once belonged to DeShields now belong to Carlos Gomez, for at least this season. The best DeShields can hope for is playing time in left field, a spot where the Rangers want Jurickson Profar to play, where they know Ryan Rua can play and where they would play Joey Gallo if his big bat demands a spot in the lineup.
DeShields, though, isn’t letting the apparent roadblocks stop him from having a productive spring and winning a job on the Opening Day roster. He’s getting on base, stealing bases and scoring runs, just as he did as he helped the Rangers rally to the AL West title in 2015.
He is that player again, if not better. He’s lean after looking like a linebacker a year ago, and he is moving around the bases quicker than ever. He’s also right mentally, which for him was his biggest off-season project after only a one-week stay in winter ball.
“I went into hibernation,” DeShields said. “I didn’t go anywhere. I didn’t talk to anybody. I reached out to certain guys. They helped me get back to who I am, but most importantly it was me rediscovering who I was and knowing who I am now and who I’m going to be for my career.”
Most importantly it was me rediscovering who I was and knowing who I am now and who I’m going to be for my career.
Delino DeShields on off-season mental reset
DeShields spoke to and worked with strength and conditioning coach Jose Vasquez, director of peak performance Josiah Igono and sports psychology consultant Don Kalkstein. DeShields’ father and namesake, the former major player, also offered guidance, and did so with the Rangers’ blessing.
DeShields considers his father, who is the manager for Cincinnati’s Triple A club, to be his best coach. No one knows him better, and he needed Dad to help get him back on the right track.
“He can just look at a box score and realize what I’m doing,” DeShields said. “He knows what’s going on with my swing, or he’ll suggest something and it works. He knows. He played the game. He knows it’s hard.”
DeShields is best when, as he says, he is selectively aggressive at the plate. He swings at only his pitch, but might jump on it on the first pitch of an at-bat. He said that he was too aggressive last season, going out of the approach that brought him rookie success, but let too many hittable pitches go by in 2015.
If the middle ground is what DeShields is seeking this spring, he appears to have found it. He entered Monday batting .276 in a team-leading 29 at-bats. Though all singles, he has been driving the ball.
DeShields also had a .364 on-base percentage, was a perfect 5 for 5 stealing bases and was tied for the team lead with seven runs scored.
The impact he made in three pitches left manager Jeff Banister mindful of 2015.
83 Runs scored in 121 games in 2015 by Delino DeShields
“Delino is putting together a very nice spring, similar to what we saw in ’15,” he said. “The ability to use the speed, he’s put some speed on the ground, but he’s barreled some balls, too. That’s his game. We know that when he gets on base, with the shape he’s gotten himself in, the small-ball aspect for him is going to be huge.”
Profar’s excused absence to play in the World Baseball Classic is giving the Rangers a chance to better evaluate DeShields, who could make the club even with Profar and Rua on it. It seems unlikely that DeShields could unseat Gomez as the leadoff hitter, though it’s not a wild idea.
“Carlos Gomez is our center fielder and is working to be the leadoff hitter,” Banister said. “As we sit today, I’d like to be able to see him do that. If Delino makes this club, are there scenarios where we put them both up there? Absolutely. But Delino is still working to make this club.”
Halfway through Rangers spring training and after an off-season mental reset, DeShields looks like he will make the Opening Day roster.
vs. Diamondbacks, 3:05 p.m., Scottsdale, Ariz.
Rangers probable pitchers: RHP Chi Chi Gonzalez, RHP Tony Barnette, RHP Tanner Scheppers, RHP Jeremy Jeffress, RHP Jose Leclerc
Diamondbacks probable starter: RHP Taijuan Walker