Shin-Soo Choo is a .375 hitter in his career against Oakland left-hander Scott Kazmir, yet the right fielder found himself on the Texas Rangers bench Wednesday night while Kazmir was on the mound.
Choo had also been replaced for the eighth inning Tuesday night in a 3-1 game.
While those moves might indicate that the Rangers believe they have a $130 million platoon player who is a defensive liability, manager Jeff Banister was simply looking out for Choo’s long-range health by holding him out of just the third game of the season.
Banister is being proactive with several players’ health. Adrian Beltre, for instance, was the designated hitter in Game 3 rather than at third base, the kind of move that Banister believes to be necessary for the Rangers’ success this season.
“I’m being proactive with not only Adrian, but Choo,” Banister said. “What you gain on the front end in real estate, it proves worthy on the back side.”
Choo’s day off after a busy night in right field and a late-spring triceps injury, and Beltre’s day off his feet also gave Banister the opportunity to get bench players Adam Rosales and Jake Smolinski in their first games of the season. Banister, like all managers, doesn’t want his reserves to collect rust by sitting too long.
“It’s an opportunity for these guys to see live pitching and be engaged,” Banister said. “It’s being proactive, and it’s looking for spots where we can get everyone engaged early and keep them up to speed with what they were doing in spring training.”
The first two Oakland batters reached in the seventh inning Tuesday night, and first baseman Prince Fielder went to Keone Kela to make sure the Rangers’ rookie wasn’t becoming unnerved in his big-league debut.
Two batters later, after the bases were loaded with one out, pitching coach Mike Maddux went to the mound for the same purpose.
Kela, it turned out, was fine. When he got Marcus Semien to bounce into an inning-ending double play, throwing a changeup with a full count, the Rangers saw how composed their 21-year-old reliever was.
The pitch selection and execution showed that Kela has guts, but it also showed mettle. That’s what impressed the Rangers the most.
“You’ve got the highs of starting an inning and the lows of one out with the bases loaded,” said Colby Lewis, who pitched the first six innings. “He did a good job keeping it together. I’m proud of him. It was really cool to see him go out there and get the first one out of the way.”
Said Banister: “After the double play, to just watch every single player rally around Keone was really cool. For me, that was one of the best moments of the night.”
Aside from his stuff, the Rangers were most impressed this spring by Kela’s tenacity. He is self-motivated, wants challenges and doesn’t back down in the face of them.
Kela tried to stay focused on each pitch, even as the A’s were attempting to rally from a 3-1 hole.
“I tried to not allow everything else to throw me off my game. I just knew I needed to make every single pitch to the best of my ability,” Kela said. “Even though it was bases loaded, it was just an amazing feeling. I’ve gotten to be around these guys for a couple years, and I couldn’t be more happy with the group of guys we have.”
▪ The Rangers announced that they will not serve Blue Bell ice cream during the upcoming homestand due to concerns over the creamery’s recall after a listeria scare.
▪ Kyuji Fujikawa (right groin) will throw his first bullpen session since hitting the DL on Friday, and fellow right-hander Tanner Scheppers (left ankle) will throw Thursday, Saturday and Sunday for Double A Frisco.
▪ Former Rangers catcher Geno Petralli has been hired as a coach at Triple A Round Rock. Petralli replaces Spike Owen, who is the manager of High A High Desert. Petralli played for the Rangers from 1985 to 1993.
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760