Texas Rangers

'The wall and I have a very good relationship'

Each time he races back, Delino DeShields knows what he might be running into. Or jumping into, if necessary.

So, it's not like he is shocked every time he makes contact with a center-field wall, as has become a frequent occurrence this season.

Most have been at Globe Life Park,including his head-on collision with the wall June 5 to rob Oakland A's outfielder Steven Piscotty of extra bases.

It's a forgiving wall, unlike the one at Dodger Stadium with left DeShields with a wounded knee.

Even worse, he couldn't quite make the grab. But here's the catch:

Each catch and even the near-misses are signs of how far DeShields' defense has come since his rookie season with the Texas Rangers.

DeShields admits he might not have made all these highlight-reel plays as recently as last season, and definitely not in 2015 or 2016.

"It's the consistency of being out there every single day and having that game experience and getting comfortable," DeShields said. "Being out there, it's like a happy place almost. I don't take my at-bats out there. It's kind of my time to gather my thoughts and anticipate something great to happen."

DeShields didn't have to save anything Friday, as the offense swatted five homers in the first three innings en route to a cozy 11-3 victory over the Chicago White Sox. Robinson Chirinos and Nomar Mazara hit three-run homers in a seven-run second inning, which opened with a Rougned Odor blast, and Joey Gallo and Shin-Soo Choo homered in the third.

Choo has reached base in 41 consecutive games, which ranks third in club history and is the longest streak this season in the majors.

Fort Worth resident Yovani Gallardo retired the first 10 batters he faced and allowed three runs in 7 1/3 innings en route to his second straight victory.

DeShields' most-recent jaw-dropping catch came Wednesday in the seventh innings just after left-hander Mike Minor lost his bid for a perfect game. DeShields raced back on a drive by Hunter Renfro and robbed the San Diego Padres' outfielder of a two-run homer as he leaped and crashed into the wall in straightaway center.

It was a critical play in the Rangers' 5-2 victory.

DeShields isn't just using his remarkable speed to make the catches. If that were the case, he would have been doing this in 2015. That speed has been good enough in past seasons to produce run-saving plays.

He is now able to use improved route running, better reads, cleaner footwork and pitch-by-pitch focus to compliment the elite wheels. Keep in mind that DeShields was a second baseman in his initial seasons in professional baseball and transitioned to center only one season before the Rangers selected him from the Houston Astros in the Rule 5 draft.

He's not so much fearless as trusting of the walls he's meeting up close, though each wall is different.He and the wall at Globe Life have become tight.

"The wall and I have a very good relationship," DeShields said. "We have long conversations out there sometimes. I go out there and hug it, show it some love. Nah. It's got a lot of cushion out there. I feel comfortable going into it and jumping into it without that fear of injuring myself."

After years of work, he has entered into a small fraternity of today's center fielders who can make the kind of catches he's making.

"He's always had the athletic ability," manager Jeff Banister said. "But the development of the route running and reaction, I don't think he would have been as proficient at it because he didn't necessarily have the reps to position himself to be able to read the ball, position himself and just react to it."

DeShields said that he was closing in on his current level of defense — including improved throwing — last season. He worked extensively in the off-season on improving his first step and continued working on reading balls off the bat.

Byron Buxton (Minnesota Twins), Billy Hamilton (Cincinnati Reds), Mike Trout (Los Angeles Angels), the oft-injured Kevin Kiermaier (Tampa Bay Rays) and Kevin Pillar (Toronto Blue Jays) are considered elite in center field.

Yet it's DeShields who leads baseball in Outs Above Average, a catch probability metric, and he and Hamilton are tied for the lead in five-star catches, as determined by MLB's Statcast.

Buxton leads MLB in sprint speed at 30.5 feet per second. DeShields is second at 30.2.

Elite stuff, though it might be as widely recognized became he hasn't been doing it as long as other greats.

"He's moving that direction,"Banister said. "There are elite moments in his game. It's a small group. We get to see our guy every day, and we appreciate what he does. I love how he's playing center field."

When DeShields isn't hitting, as he experienced in a stretch that spanned late May and early June, he can always help his team and his pitchers with his glove.

And he really likes it.

"If I'm not getting hits, don't hit it to me because I'm taking it away," DeShields said. "I love taking hits away from guys and making them upset. Some of them get upset and some of them don't, but I never feel bad for doing that. It's what I'm supposed to do."

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