Carlos Gomez, bad ankle and all, finally talked himself back into the Texas Rangers’ lineup Thursday, though it helped that a left-hander was pitching for the Seattle Mariners.
Gomez, who hadn’t started since Sept. 9, patrolled center field at Safeco Field, no small task, and Delino DeShields moved from center to left field while Nomar Mazara sat to rest his sore quadriceps and to avoid lefty James Paxton.
So for one day, in the finale of the three-game series, playing Gomez, bad ankle and all, made some sense — an extra right-handed bat and a day to freshen up Mazara.
But what happens with Gomez and DeShields on Friday, when the Oakland A’s will throw a right-hander? Everyone will know soon enough, but bet on the center fielder being DeShields.
He’s earned it.
What isn’t known is what the Rangers plan to do with center field next season. The final 11 games of 2017 are the Rangers’ only concern, with the second wild card within reach, but DeShields has made the case that he should play somewhere every day in 2018.
He makes the offense more versatile and helps the Rangers win.
“He adds a dimension that there’s not but a handful of guys in baseball that are like that,” manager Jeff Banister said. “That is a skill set that used to be extremely prevalent in baseball, but with the addition of power, there’s not as many of those guys out there.
“Even with the increased home run rate this year, the home run doesn’t just show up every night. It’s not the main focal point of winning baseball games. There are other elements in this game that can help you. The whole, ‘Speed doesn’t going into a slump?’ It doesn’t, unless he’s hurt.”
The Rangers entered Thursday 31-25 in DeShields’ past 56 starts, which includes 19 in September. He was batting .294 in his past 86 games, dating to May 12, and his improvements defensively have bolstered the confidence of the coaching staff in him.
All of his success, at the plate and in the field, is rooted to his speed. It’s elite speed, top-five-in-the-game speed, beat-out-a-routine-grounder-to-second speed.
DeShields’ wheels routinely change a game, as they did Tuesday in the eighth inning.
He dropped a perfect bunt that Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager, a former Gold Glove winner, had to put in his pocket.
“It was a good bunt,” DeShields said. “It’s something that I’ve really taken pride in. After my first year in professional ball I got convinced that it could be used as a weapon, especially with my speed. ... If I put it where I want it, no one can defend it.”
He then stole second when everyone in Safeco Field knew he would try, even against a pitcher with a quick delivery home and a catcher with a solid throwing arm.
DeShields was safe, though the play was close enough that the Mariners considered challenging the call. DeShields then raced home on an Elvis Andrus chopper toward third after it forced him to wait to get through the infield.
“Everybody knows I’m going to run, and everyone knows I’m going to bunt,” DeShields said. “It’s just part of it. It’s something that I do. People are always anticipating me bunting and steals. I’ve got to live with that. I’ve got to do the little things to perfect it. It’s more having a mental approach instead of just getting out there and wanting to go every time.”
His run gave the Rangers a 3-1 lead, and they will take every extra run they can get with their bullpen continuing its season-long adventure.
“It was game-changing,” Banister said. “It was as perfect a bunt as you can put down. He stole a base also to get in scoring position. His speed gave us an opportunity to get both of those in that [inning].”
The Rangers haven’t closed the door on bringing back Gomez for 2018. They have fallen in love with the person and the player, a quality defender with speed and pop who brings energy to the lineup.
Gomez likely wants a multiyear contract after playing this season on a one-year, $11.5 million deal. He has enjoyed his time with the Rangers and wants to spend the rest of his career with them, if the right deal can be found.
The obstacle facing Gomez is that the Rangers need to pour as many of their available funds as possible into the pitching staff. DeShields would be an affordable quality option for center field, and the Rangers could fill the opening in left field with Mazara and keep Shin-Soo Choo in right field.
If the Rangers like the idea of continuing to feed Choo games at designated hitter, Willie Calhoun, Ryan Rua or Joey Gallo would be budget-friendly options in left field.
If Gomez’s price tag isn’t too outlandish, the Rangers could re-sign him and play DeShields in left.
The constant in those scenarios is DeShields, who has made a case that he should play somewhere every day in 2018.
He helps the Rangers win.
Rangers at Athletics
9:05 p.m. Friday, FSSW