None of the usual suspects at Texas Rangers spring training needs a calendar to tell him when spring break has arrived in Texas.
Crowd sizes on the back fields and inside Surprise Stadium spike suddenly, as does the count of children in the clubhouse belonging to players and coaches.
Both were up drastically Monday afternoon.
The newcomers were greeted by 90-degree heat and the San Francisco Giants, whose fans travel well each spring. Those who flocked to the Surprise Recreation Campus were also greeted by Yu Darvish, who made his third Cactus League start.
Thoughts? Here are The Surprise Five from Monday at Rangers camp.
1. Darvish threw 63 pitches in 3 1/3 innings, the by-product of a 28-pitch first inning and six strikeouts. He appeared to have trouble spotting his fastball early, but his slider looked like it was in midseason form.
The way he pitched made it sound like he was trying to simulate a game. He went with the pitch that was working best, the slider, to get his outs.
Our friends in the Japanese media said that Darvish threw mostly four-seam fastballs and sliders. He mixed in a couple curveballs and changeups, maybe a cutter or two. He also maintained his velocity throughout his start, touching 97 and throwing in the mid-90s to his lone batter in the fourth.
Aside from a little work left to do on fastball command, this guy is ready.
“Physically I’m feeling pretty good right now,” Darvish said. “I’m building up my arm. I’m feeling good and strong.”
Darvish has some off-the-field business to tend to in Texas this weekend. He and his wife are expecting.
The plan for Darvish, depending on how he recovers from this start, is to pitch Saturday and then depart for the Metroplex and await the birth of another son.
That will bring his boy count up to four. Try mixing in a girl.
2. To follow up on Delino DeShields, who is the lead story from Monday for Tuesday’s Star-Telegram (subscribe here).
Manager Jeff Banister said that DeShields looks faster than he has since joining the Rangers as a Rule 5 pick in 2015. DeShields said that he isn’t any faster, though the sleek model DeShields is running better this spring than the linebacker model in 2016.
Instead, it’s likely his first step that has quickened after spending the off-season focusing on gaining as much as he could. He and strength and conditioning coach Jose Vazquez worked and worked during the off-season on explosive movements, and the first step is as explosive as a movement gets in baseball.
DeShields said that he is getting into bases easier than in the past and is more confident on the bases because of it and because the Rangers have green-lighted him to steal or go first to third whenever he thinks he has a chance.
Banister loves that disruptive speed. Of course, DeShields can’t steal first base, but he’s taking care of that part, too, by trying to be more selective but not too selective. If he sees a pitch he can handle, no matter the count, he’s going to put a swing on it.
It’s working for him so far.
3. Banister said something curious in talking about DeSheilds, saying that Carlos Gomez is the Rangers’ center fielder and “is working” to be their leadoff hitter.
If anyone is to read into that statement, they could read some indecision. Banister said early on in camp that Shin-Soo Choo will get some games atop the batting order but seemed content with Gomez.
One reason he likes Gomez there is his speed. Another is the thought have having him batting behind No. 9 hitter Elvis Andrus. A third reason is his power, and that has been on display his past two games.
Gomez delivered a grand slam, albeit a ball that likely benefited from the thin air of Arizona. But he made good contact on it, to the opposite field no less, and later blazed home on a double by Andrus, who was batting second as he tries to catch up on missed at-bats.
Gomez doubled twice in his last game, Saturday. He walked for the second time this spring before scoring on Andrus’ double.
Maybe Banister was just trying to say anything that us writers would etch in stone about the leadoff spot. Gomez, judging by recent performance, has a firm grip on those duties.
4. Andrus seems to be just fine. He’s been fine for a while, but his legs hadn’t been tested this spring. Until the first inning Monday.
The veteran shortstop legged out a double on a play that happens only in spring training, a chopper that clears the infield and allows the fastest runners to reach second base. Two batters later, Andrus was waved home after an error past the shortstop even though he had gone back toward second base.
Another test is supposed to arrive Tuesday. Andrus is in the lineup for the afternoon game against Arizona at Salt River Fields/Talking Stick/Scottsdale.
It’s unusual for a veteran to make the cross-Valley trip, traffic and all, but Andrus is OK with. His future wife is in town, so they’re going to do some shopping and grab some dinner.
She’s with child, so Andrus even has a designated driver if he needs one.
5. The travel roster for Big League Weekend in San Antonio was posted Monday, subject to change. Considering that eight players are scattered across the world in the World Baseball Classic, the group the Rangers are sending isn’t half bad.
Mike Napoli, Nomar Mazara, DeShields and A.J. Griffin are the headliners for games Friday night and Saturday afternoon. Hanser Alberto is expected to be scratched because of right shoulder soreness.
So, the Rangers won’t be the ’27 Yankees or the ’16 Rangers, but it’s about as good as a team is going to do midway through a WBC spring training.
The first two Big League Weekends fell after spring training, so the full squad was at the Alamodome. The crowds the first year were extraordinary. Maybe there’s something to waiting.
Any changes to the dates won’t happen next year. The NCAA Tournament is in San Antonio in 2018, and Big League Weekend won’t be held. The Rangers will likely go somewhere, though.
The beat writers want Las Vegas, where the Rangers went in 2012 and 2013. It’s an easy drive, and it’s Las Vegas. Plus, nothing beats Las Vegas during the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
The Surprise Five does not endorse excessive gambling and drinking, though a little of both won’t wreck anyone’s resume for the afterlife.