Texas Rangers

Gallo crushes first spring homer, but slugging isn't No. 1 goal for 2018

This swing produced Joey Gallo's first homer of the spring and was a part of his spring goal of making more contact.
This swing produced Joey Gallo's first homer of the spring and was a part of his spring goal of making more contact. rmallison@star-telegram.com

Jake Diekman is one intense dude.

His second spring outing Friday wasn't to his liking, as indicated by the four runs (two unearned) the Cleveland Indians scored against him in the fifth inning en route to a 9-4 victory.

Another indication was his reaction after being removed after recording only two outs. The quiet of a pitching change was interrupted by a crashing noise and an unmistakable scream of a 12-letter curse word that would make your mother blush.

That might have been the same word Andrew Miller used after Joey Gallo crushed a homer as the first hitter of the next inning, though probably more in amazement than anger.

It's a versatile word.

Gallo's first of the spring traveled out to right-center field and short-hopped the Cincinnati Reds banner hanging on a fence that keeps the riff-raff out of Goodyear Ballpark.

Statcast isn't at the spring home of the Indians and Reds, so no estimated distance was provided. Let's go with 700 feet.

Here's the Surprise Five from Friday:

1. The thing about each Gallo monster shot is that he seems largely unimpressed by it.

Maybe that should be expected from someone who has been hitting the longest homers his entire baseball life.

The only concession Gallo gave is that he "hit it pretty good." That will happen, he said, whenever he gets the barrel to the ball. He also hit it off one of the premier relievers in the game and probably the top left-handed reliever, but Gallo downplayed that by saying Miller isn't yet where he will be during the regular season.

"I know he'll come at me with more next time," Gallo said.

But the homer in the sixth and the lineout to right in the fourth were part of Gallo's goal this spring. He wants to put more balls in play and be more of hitter than a slugger. If he accomplishes that, who knows how many more homers he will hit.

"I think I'm doing a lot of things well, even at first base," Gallo said. "Just going out there putting the bat on the ball, working the count, seeing the ball well. That's really what I'm worried about. I'm not worried about getting hits or the result, really. I just want to go out and get a feel."

The questions remains: How high of an average can Gallo have? Adrian Beltre believes Gallo can hit .300, which he did at a few stops in the minors. Gallo knows that putting more balls in play will quiet the questions people have.

"I don't really look at stats," he said. "Obviously, it would be nice to hit for a better average. I'm just always hearing about how my average sucks, so if that would stop that would be nice. But I don't go out and set goals in terms of where I want my average to be and home runs. I just want to play every day and have good at-bats. I know if I do that, the numbers are going to be there."

2. Each spring training, like clockwork, a pitcher will emerge from the bottom of the odds sheet for making the Opening Day roster to a bona-fide contender to be one of the 25 who breaks camp with the team.

Nick Tepsech ring a bell? How about Mason Tobin? Robbie Ross did it, too. Position players have pulled it off as well (Leury Garcia, for instance), but the pitchers are the most noteworthy.

So far this spring, Clayton Blackburn is the runaway leader in the category.

He has made two starts and tossed five scoreless innings, three of which came Thursday. Yes, it's early and there is plenty of time for things to hit the fan. However...

"As we sit right now, he's that guy," manager Jeff Banister said. "He couldn't have been any more under the radar."

Banister said Blackburn's under-the-radarness stems from two career big-league call-ups but no appearances in either. He is on the 40-man roster, so there are longer long shots, but Blackburn was a forgotten man entering camp.

He doesn't have a power arm or a filthy off-speed pitch, but he trusts what he does have and knows how to pitch with it.

Plus, he's a native Texan.

"He's an interesting guy," Banister said. "Stuff-wise, if you grade him out, he probably doesn't just knock your socks off in a tryout camp, per se, but he goes out and pitches. I love how he competes. Very intriguing. We'll continue to watch this and see how it plays out for him."

3. At the very least, the Rangers will have one more arm in the minors they can trust in case one of their six starters, assuming they go with six, is injured. At that point, the six-man rotation might have to be scuttled.

Anyhoo, Blackburn, were he not to make the team, would be joined in the Triple-A rotation by Yohander Mendez and probably Austin Bibens-Dirkx, whose roster chances have gotten longer with the additions of right-handers Jesse Chavez and Tim Lincecum.

The left-handed Mendez, barely 23, allowed one run on three hits in three innings Friday in his second Cactus League appearance.

Mendez has pitched in the majors the past two seasons, but the Rangers aren't ready to hand him a rotation spot. He still isn't a finished product, and that doesn't have anything to do with how he pitched against the Indians.

He was ordered before last season to work on fastball command. He started throwing more off-speed pitches later in the season, and the Rangers want to see everything come together over a full slate of Triple-A starts.

It's a considerable tapping of the breaks after Mendez pitched at four levels in 2016, and that's not a bad thing. Let him develop in the minors rather than learn on the job in the majors.

Actually, it's a very good thing that hasn't always been afforded others but should have been.

4. At times like these for a ballplayer who is grieving, it's difficult to talk baseball. Lincecum is mourning the loss of his older brother, but he is still committed to making good on the one-year deal he agreed to with the Rangers before the death.

Lincecum has been in the Surprise area getting his house settled and having the scans on his arm required for passing his physical. After attending the funeral Saturday in Seattle, he might be in camp as soon as Sunday to see Dr. Keith Meister.

Once the deal is done, Lincecum will be even further behind schedule than he already was. He had to try out for teams Feb. 15 and didn't decide until last week that he would sign with the Rangers.

Club brass has told him not to rush anything. They will deal with his preparedness for the season when they get to that point. They might stick him on the 10-day disabled list if he needs more time.

He might not, as he is building up to throw a few innings out of the bullpen instead of seven or eight out of the rotation. But he will be given all the time he needs, both on the field and off it, to get himself in order.

5. As far as spring-training games on March 3 go, consider the one the Rangers are scheduled to play at 2 p.m. at Scottsdale Stadium as intriguing.

Staff ace Cole Hamels will be making his Cactus League debut against the San Francisco Giants, who he faced in his first A-game start in 2016. He wasn't great then and, if history is any indication, won't be again despite the early-spring praise from pitching coach Doug Brocail.

Hamels has a process each spring to get ready for the season and won't be straying from it.

Matt Bush is making his scheduled for his second A-game appearance after a solid initial outing as a starter Sunday. The right-hander is the most intriguing player in Rangers camp.

The Giants are scheduled to throw lefty Derek Holland at some point, so there's some intrigue there with the gold-hearted former Rangers starter who is trying to win a roster spot and jump-start his career.

The Surprise Five is pulling for him.

Rangers probable pitchers: Hamels, Bush, Chavez, LHP Alex Claudio, RHP Jose Leclerc.

Giants probable pitchers: RHP Johnny Cueto, Holland, RHP Julian Fernandez.

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