The latest Cole Hamels rumor was barely a ripple compared to the bomb that Arian Beltre dropped Tuesday.
Five days ago, Beltre told reporters that his sprained left thumb was so sore, he couldn’t even swing a bat.
Yet, the third baseman was back in the Texas Rangers lineup Tuesday night. Batting fourth. Defying all once-gospel medical reports. Ignoring the healing benefits of a rehab assignment.
Being Beltre, in other words.
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Stories of Beltre’s reluctance to vacate the starting lineup, even for one rest day, were legendary when Ron Washington was the manager. But even Beltre, at age 36, had grudgingly admitted during spring training that an occasional day off might be a prudent choice.
When the Rangers were two hours late in posting their pregame starting lineup for Tuesday’s game against the Oakland Athletics, knee-jerk speculation was rampant. None of it, however, mentioned Beltre being activated and playing.
He hadn’t even taken batting practice Tuesday with the rest of the team.
When asked to please explain, general manager Jon Daniels summed it up with the Mayo Clinic medical diagnosis of the year:
“He’s a freak,” Daniels said. “Freaky players do freaky things.”
Daniels went on to say that Beltre’s aching thumb “had improved notably over the weekend in Chicago.”
“He hit off the tee,” Daniels said, “and took about 50 swings on Saturday. He really felt like it had turned a corner.”
Beltre, the GM said, wasn’t semi-miraculously cured. He has simply decided to play through the pain.
“It’s going to hurt,” Daniels said. “It’s not going to be totally pain-free. He’s aware of it.
“But it’s manageable. The medical staff feels like he can’t hurt it further.”
An hour later, Beltre was back at third base, looking like a reasonable facsimile of his Gold Glove self. At the plate, his lone concession to the injury appeared to be extra padding between the top of his left hand and the bottom of his right.
Did I say “padding?” Beltre looked as if he had a Cinnabon separating his two hands.
Beltre drove in a run with a sacrifice fly in the fifth inning and singled in the ninth, finishing 1 for 4.
“He swung the bat well,” manager Jeff Banister said. “He’s an amazing guy.”
He’s a future Hall of Famer, frankly. But he appeared to wince more than once when swinging Tuesday night.
Daniels said he trusts the medical staff when it says that Beltre is in no danger of further injuring the thumb.
“Intuitively it makes sense that he’s not going to damage it further, since nothing was repaired,” Daniels said. “He [injured] it on a pretty unique dive. He didn’t do it swinging the bat.”
But that’s what medical rehab assignments are supposed to be for, to allow a player to ease back into his full-speed routine.
At the same time as Beltre’s return was revealed, the Rangers announced that right field Shin-Soo Choo had been scratched from the starting lineup because of back spasms.
Choo’s situation, listed as day to day, deserves watching, because it’s the second time this season that he’s suffered back spasms. After an inert start to the season, Choo has batted .269 with seven homers and 27 RBI in May and June.
Josh Hamilton will begin a rehab assignment Wednesday in Frisco and likely will return to the Rangers next week. Banister will have to find him a place to play.
If Beltre doesn’t hurt his thumb further, the Rangers will have an interesting lineup decision with Choo, Hamilton, Joey Gallo and Ryan Rua.
One thing now appears settled, however. If Beltre says he can play, he will play.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697