Big League Weekend IV is upon the Alamo City, where once again the Alamodome has been transformed almost into a baseball stadium.
The right-field corner, all of 272 feet away from home plate, remains a spectacle, as do right-center field, the fuzzy artificial turf, the team dugouts and the team travel rosters.
But these games are exhibitions designed to make money, and it’s all in good fun for a market that craves baseball but has only a Double A affiliate to cozy up to.
Thoughts? Here are The Surprise Five.
1. Speaking of right field, the Royals sent two homers that way off Derek Holland with back-to-back shots in the second inning. Neither was exactly smoked, and Holland didn’t feel remotely bad about them.
Both were hit by right-handed batters, who batted .264 against Holland in 2015 but slugged at .511. Yeesh. Holland, though, is hopeful that a slight change in his mechanics, in which his first move from the windup is a small step toward home plate, will make him more effective overall.
He said that he is able to get his weight back more and drive toward home on more of a direct plane rather than having his torso torque and cause misses off the plate. Now, he will try to change eye levels more often, and he has noticed more sink on his sinker.
Holland liked his off-speed pitches Friday. The Rangers want to see him throw more changeups, and he likes his slider. The Rangers also want Holland to be himself, not Cole Hamels or Cliff Lee. So, let him try it his way.
2. Manager Jeff Banister was given a report on Ian Desmond’s debut in center field Thursday night, and it was a favorable one even though he committed one error.
The Rangers weren’t discouraged enough to keep from giving Desmond more time in center field to see if he could be an option there if Delino DeShields needs a day off. But Desmond isn’t quite yet an option to be a defensive replacement, in large part because the Rangers aren’t sure if they will replace DeShields for defense.
DeShields has shown significant improvement this spring, said Banister, and the decision to sub him out late last season was more a by-product of DeShields’ sore knee and the expanded September roster than his lack of defense.
DeShields lacks arm strength, but he can make up for it by getting better reads on balls. If he gets to them quicker, he will be getting the ball back to the infield quicker and can cut down on teams taking advantage of his arm.
We didn’t sub him out last year because we didn’t like his defense. It was an opportunity for him to get off his leg, and we did have some other options in guys that were veteran center fielders.
Rangers manager Jeff Banister on replacing Delino DeShields for defense last season
3. Jurickson Profar went deep into the hole between second and third base, back-handed a Hunter Dozier grounder and threw to first to get Dozier by a couple steps for the final out of the second inning.
The arm continues to be a non-factor this spring a year after he had surgery to fix the torn labrum that was an existing injury and kept causing his teres major muscle to tear. Friday’s throw wasn’t Profar’s first strong one of the spring.
As Banister said a few days ago, he’s not ready to declare Profar’s arm sound, not with that injury history. But it appears to be fine. If so and assuming he hits, he either becomes trade bait, becomes an option to be a super utility player again, or motivates the Rangers to try to trade Elvis Andrus.
It will take most, if not all, of the season before the Rangers have that answer.
Jurickson Profar hasn’t played in a major league game since Sept. 27, 2013, because of a 2014 chronic shoulder injury that required surgery last spring.
4. It’s hard to say how much money will be made this weekend, but if the games weren’t a financial success, they wouldn’t have made it this long with more years to come.
The crowd Friday wasn’t bad, at 27,536, but it wasn’t what it was during the inaugural two-game show in 2013. The Saturday day game could test the gate.
The Rangers have played in all four Big League Weekends, against the Padres, Astros, Dodgers and now the Royals. The Rangers have one more year they are required to show up, as part of their agreement with Ryan-Sanders Baseball, before getting the chance to opt out.
San Antonio has become a key market for the Rangers, so they might not want to opt out. Houston would almost certainly be recruiting to take the Rangers’ spot, with Reid Ryan the Astros’ president, and the Rangers might not want to cede San Antonio to their lone in-state baseball competition.
The Rangers also don’t want to surrender the chance to make money during games at Globe Life Park the weekend before the regular season, so expect future Big League Weekends to again be held during spring break. The organizers of the event want spring break, even if means rosters that lack star power.
27,536 Friday attendance for the opener of Big League Weekend at the Alamodome
5. What’s up with all the back problems Rangers players are having this spring? The good news is that none of them have been to the level of Matt Harrison, who could use a back transplant.
With all the twisting and bending and such that goes on in baseball, from following through on a pitch to swinging a bat more than a hundred times a day, maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised.
I guess the rash of back spasms — Anthony Ranaudo was the latest victim — and back stiffness — Shin-Soo Choo had some but is expected to play Saturday in Arizona — are better than elbows, shoulders, hamstrings and knees.
Now would be a good time to find some wood to knock.