The future might be now for a couple of young Texas Rangers pitchers.
Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez and Keone Kela were on display Monday in the Rangers’ 4-1 spring training victory over the Oakland Athletics.
Gonzalez, thought to still be a year away from a realistic shot at the roster, and Keone Kela, the fire-balling reliever who had already opened some eyes this spring, combined to hold the A’s scoreless on two hits over four innings.
They stood together in the clubhouse in front of their neighboring lockers after their appearances.
Gonzalez congratulated Kela after hearing he retired the A’s in order. Kela returned the pleasantries. It was a good day for both.
A year ago they were teammates at Double A Frisco. Now, considering the shape of the Rangers’ pitching staff with Yu Darvish out of the rotation and the bullpen still in need of reliable arms, both are close to realizing their major league dreams.
“Every time you step out there, you’re trying to achieve something out there,” said Kela, who turns 22 on April 16. “My dream was always to play major league baseball. I don’t want to be a career minor leaguer. I want to play at the big-league level, and I want to stay and remain at the big-league level.
“Of course it’s an audition, especially with me being a rookie. [Rangers coaches and scouts are] all evaluating us. Who’s going to be an asset to us? Who’s going to help the Texas Rangers get back to the 2011 team?”
Gonzalez turned 23 in January. He has only pitched 180 2/3 innings in two minor league seasons after being drafted in the first round out of Oral Roberts in 2013.
Kela has pitched in 80 games (99 1/3 innings) in three minor league seasons after being drafted in the 12th round in 2012.
Both impressed manager Jeff Banister with their temperament Monday. Gonzalez walked the first batter in the third and had a runner at second with one out when pitching coach Mike Maddux made a visit to the mound. He asked Gonzalez what pitch he thought he should throw to Stephen Vogt.
“I told him I wanted to go right after him, fastball,” Gonzalez said.
But Maddux reminded him that the hitter would likely be eager to swing with a runner in scoring position. He suggested an off-speed pitch and Gonzalez obliged. Vogt grounded out, and Gonzalez forced the next batter to fly out to end the inning.
Maddux greeted him with a smile as he entered the dugout.
“Good mound visit, four pitches, two outs. That’s not too bad,” Maddux joked.
To break camp on the Rangers’ roster, Gonzalez and Kela will have to continue to impress, not only physically but mentally. They’ll need to show, as they did Monday, that they’re prepared to handle the next level.
“He’s been calm. He showed poise and presence on the mound and this was something I had heard about from all the people who had seen him in the past,” Banister said of Gonzalez. “He doesn’t seem to get too rattled about anything.”
He heaped similar praise on Kela. But, Banister cautioned, only time will show whether they’re ready.
“You want to make sure these young guys are prepared for all the situations they’re going to encounter in a major league game,” he said. “I want to see poise, use all their pitches. How do hitters react to their pitches?”
Kela retired the three batters he faced on 11 pitches, including an 89-mph changeup for a strikeout to end the fifth inning. Catcher Chris Gimenez had called for a fastball on a 2-2 count.
“I’m fully confident in the game Chris Gimenez calls, it’s just when I’m up there it’s my game,” said Kela, who’s been perfecting his changeup to go along with a high-90s fastball and slow breaking ball.
Both took a judicious approach to the idea of potentially earning roster spots because of depth problems.
“I try not to think about it like that,” Gonzalez said. “Whoever gets that chance to fill in that spot hopefully will have a good season. I’m just going to keep doing the same thing I was doing when [Darvish] was healthy.
“It’s unfortunate it happened to him. I don’t look at it as a good thing for me. It’s tough for the team to lose our ace.”
But now, the idea of playing in the big leagues seems more like a reality than a dream.
“I think anything is realistic, anything is possible,” Gonzalez added. “Whatever the staff and my coaches decide to do, then that’s what they’re going to decide to do.
“I’m just ready to help the Texas Rangers to be at their best and be an asset. I truly believe I have an opportunity to do something big this year, not only for myself but as a contribution to the Texas Rangers.”
Stefan Stevenson, 817-390-7760