The player in the Texas Rangers’ clubhouse Tuesday afternoon with his hoodie on and his face down was doing what all rookies try to do, avoid getting in any veteran’s business.
If asked a question or summoned to do something or if a burning baseball question he has requires an answer, Willie Calhoun will assert himself more. Otherwise, it’s lips shut, eyes and ears open.
That’s the rookie’s goal the final 13 games of the season. He wants to play, of course, and wants to show better than he has in the first five games of his major league career.
But with the injured bodies he was summoned to replace regaining their health and reclaiming their at-bats, Calhoun is biding his time and getting a head start on spring training 2018.
“Willie’s going to play,” manager Jeff Banister said. “But with the guys getting healthy and coming back, and as we’re still trying to move toward where we want to go, we’ll make decisions on who we’ll utilize in a starting role for us.
“That doesn’t mean Willie’s not going to get opportunities to start and play. With Adrian DHing, that changes the structure of our lineup a little bit.”
This is a certainty: Beltre will be in the lineup as long as he believes he is well enough to play, even at the risk of aggravating his strained left hamstring and missing the rest of the season, whether the Rangers are in contention for the second wild-card spot or mathematically eliminated.
Games can open for Calhoun if Beltre is able to play third base again rather than just serving as the designated hitter. At-bats could also open up if Nomar Mazara has more trouble with his left quad or if Carlos Gomez is unable to play center field on his sprained right ankle.
Gomez ran and shagged balls Tuesday at Safeco Field before the opener of a three-game series against the Seattle Mariners. He told Banister that he was available off the bench, and he could return to the lineup as soon as Wednesday.
“I feel really good,” said Gomez, who has been hitting for four days. “The manager has the last call if I’m a starter or not.”
Calhoun wants to play in order to give a better glimpse at the player he believes he is. He is only 1 for 13 so far, with the hit coming in his first career at-bat. As a left fielder, he has made most plays on balls hit his way and shown an accurate arm.
There’s much more there, though.
“I feel that I haven’t been able to show what I’m capable of doing so far,” Calhoun said. “But that’s part of it. I’m just hanging in there and giving it my all.”
Tuesday marked the one-week anniversary of his big-league promotion and debut. He said that Week One was “pretty crazy,” after being on the verge of heading home to California for the off-season to suddenly in the majors.
Every player has treated him well and been there to answer any questions or to give any feedback on what they have seen. His family was at his debut and were at Angel Stadium, a little closer to home, over the weekend.
“I’ve had a lot of fun,” Calhoun said. “Being around all the guys is pretty cool, too. I’m just trying to have fun throughout the whole process.”
Banister said that Calhoun has been a model citizen. The results haven’t been there at the plate, but the sample size is too small to make any kind of judgment on Calhoun as a player.
“We love what we’ve seen so far from Willie as far as he goes out and competes,” Banister said. “He’s not afraid. He’s moved well in the outfield. He’s made some nice throws. It’s a challenge for anybody to step up there and hit major league pitching. ... Willie’s handled himself fine.”
And he’s going to play the rest of the season, just not every day, at least not with the Rangers still not eliminated from the wild-card race. Maybe some games open, maybe they don’t, but there’s value in Calhoun just being with the team.
His time will come, perhaps in 2018 after slugging 31 homers at Triple A this year. His time the past week will serve him well.
“Going into spring training, I feel comfortable,” Calhoun said. “Just being around the guys helps a lot.”
Rangers at Mariners
9:10 p.m. Wednesday, FSSW