The night he hit his first career home run, Delino DeShields said that when he hits homers, they usually come in bunches.
It was funny, but he wasn’t joking.
There haven’t been any more DeShields homers since and his batting average dropped 12 points — from .266 on Aug. 14 to .254 on Wednesday — the lowest for the rookie since he became an everyday player in May.
“The feeling of hitting a home run is really good. You like to re-create it,” manager Jeff Banister said with a chuckle. “It’s not always the best thing for all players involved.”
The past three games, however, DeShields appears to have abandoned the home-run stroke and returned to the formula that has made him the “battery in the remote control,” as Banister aptly put it.
“Without him, we’d have a hard time changing the channel,” he said. “This is a kid who leads the charge, in my mind.”
He’s been on base nine of his past 13 plate appearances, including two hits in his first two at-bats Saturday as the Rangers beat the Baltimore Orioles 4-3 at Globe Life Park.
Texas remains four back of the American League West-leading Houston Astros and a 1 1/2 games ahead of the Minnesota Twins for the second wild-card spot. The Orioles dropped to 4 1/2 games off the wild-card pace.
DeShields’ place atop the lineup has been integral to the team’s success.
Texas is 46-35 in games he has started this season.
His teammates and Banister credit his leadoff presence as a vital part of the team’s offensive surge since the All-Star break.
After seeing DeShields, who was selected by the Rangers in the Rule 5 Draft last December from the Astros, compete for a spot on the 25-man roster during a thorough spring training vetting process, the Rangers were convinced he had the skills to make the jump from Double A in the Astros’ organization to the big leagues.
His success hasn’t been a surprise, they insist.
“We knew he had those tools. It’s just a matter of him getting the chance to play more often and be himself,” said Adrian Beltre, who was 2 for 4 with a two-run homer in the third inning Saturday. “He’s been really good for us in front of the lineup, getting on base, and creating situations for us to score runs. I’m not surprised at all.”
That’s exactly what DeShields did twice early on Saturday night. He collected his ninth triple (third most by a Rangers rookie) to start the first, although he was thrown out after being caught in a rundown. He beat out an infield single to start the third and scored from first on Shin-Soo Choo’s double to right-center.
“I think he’s getting back to using the whole field and keeping his head in and not using a big swing,” Banister said. “He’s getting back to the line drive and contact.”
But DeShields’ brief swoon at the plate, Banister noted, wasn’t necessarily about the home run. DeShields, like most rookies, is playing more games than he’s ever played. Coupled with the extensive playing time he had in spring training when the Rangers were deciding if he had what they thought he had, his motor could have just been wearing a bit thin. He’s started 38 of 40 games since the All-Star break.
“These bodies start to get to a point things might feel a little heavier, not as fresh,” said Banister, who recently pulled DeShields early from a game to “get him off his feet.”
“There’s a certain amount of fatigue, we have to be able to measure that knowing the kid. It’s natural,” he said. “The stress level is much higher [for rookies]. When it’s all said and done they’ll go take a nap.”
Throughout the season, even as far back as spring training when he was trying to prove himself to the Rangers, DeShields has kept a calm, measured, mature-for-his-age (he turned 23 two weeks ago) demeanor.
As if he’s been here before.
“He’s been here before, he just didn’t play in games,” Banister said with a matter of fact flair alluding to coming to the ballpark with his dad, Delino DeShields, a 13-year big league veteran. “That’s the advantage of him being an ex-player’s son. There is something to that.”
The influence his father, who is now a minor league manager, had growing up is becoming more obvious to DeShields during his rookie season.
“When he coached me he brought a lot of professionalism to myself and our team,” said DeShields, who leads the American League with 10 bunt singles and is among the leaders in triples and stolen bases. “In a way, he was kind of preparing me for this level.”
Don’t mistake his stoicism. He’s thrilled to be playing and thriving in the big leagues.
“I don’t get caught up in the moment. I know my tasks, what I’m supposed to do,” he said. “I go out there and have tunnel vision. I’m excited [to be in the majors], but I get on the field and you just try to win ball games.”
Stefan Stevenson, 817-390-7760