For all the Twitter angst and #freewillie hashtags and complaints about Carlos Tocci, Willie Calhoun was not going to be promoted to the Texas Rangers’ roster without a chance to play every day.
Club brass, from the front office to the coaching staff, doesn’t see the value in bringing developing players up for only a handful of games and maybe a couple at-bats. They need to play, not be taken out of the routine that is helping them grow into major-leaguers.
But a chance for everyday at-bats came about Friday. Nomar Mazara needs time on the disabled list to let his sprained right thumb heel, and Shin-Soo Choo is healthy enough to play the outfield again after dealing with a strained right quadriceps.
Joey Gallo will be asked to play right field for the first time in his career on days when Choo needs to be at designated hitter.
And, voila, there’s Calhoun’s opening.
He hopped of a flight from Omaha, Neb., on Friday and into the Rangers’ lineup about 90 minutes later as they opened the second half of the season against the Cleveland Indians at Globe Life Park.
Calhoun served as the DH but will get time in left field for however long he’s here, be it a week or the rest of the way or somewhere in between.
“I try to not look too much into that, just playing the game hard, and wherever it takes me, that’s where it takes me,” Calhoun said. “But just trying not to put too much pressure on myself and just go out and play the same game that I’ve always played.”
But Calhoun is here, at long last, and at long last Friday the Rangers bowed to the Indians 9-8 in 11 innings. The centerpiece of the Yu Darvish trade last year, Calhoun singled in a run in his second at-bat to forge a 3-3 tie after Martin Perez yielded three runs in the second inning.
Joey Gallo connected for a two-run homer in the seventh, and he followed Robinson Chirinos’ 456-foot solo homer with a 472-footer to tie the game at 8-all with two outs in the ninth. Calhoun struck out to end the inning with the winning run at second base, and he made the game’s final out to cap a 1-for-6 night.
Shin-Soo Choo led off with a single to extend his on-base streak to 52 games.
Calhoun, who didn’t arrive to the ballpark until 6 p.m., was the preseason favorite to be the Opening Day left fielder after making his MLB debut in September, but his defense proved to need significant work.
It has improved, manager Jeff Banister said, to the point where Calhoun is handling the routine plays.
The Rangers have never doubted his ability to hit, and he came on at Triple A Round Rock after sluggish start to the season. Calhoun batted .421 in his final 10 games before the promotion and had lifted his average from .257 on June 5 to .306.
“After the first month in Round Rock, I really had to put together a plan,” he said. “Obviously, they were pitching me a lot differently than they were last year, pitching around me a lot more, but I couldn’t miss my pitch and that was the biggest thing for me. In the first month, I was missing my pitch a lot. But after the first month and a half, I really settled down, and it was good.”
Banister said that Calhoun has been hitting to all fields, hitting for power (eight homers and 28 doubles) and getting on base (.360 on-base percentage). The Rangers hope that Calhoun keeps that approach by extending at-bats and not getting pull happy.
“Pull the ball appropriately, when it needs to be pulled,” Banister said. “Put together some professional at-bats. I know Willie’s an aggressive hitter and likes to swing early, and that’s good in productive situations. There are times, too, when you’d like to extend the at-bat.”
Mazara was injured July 13 on the game’s first play. He chased a double into the corner at Camden Yards and slipped when he gloved the ball. As he slipped, he rolled up his wrist but finished the game and played the next day.
The transaction is retroactive to Tuesday, the furthest a DL move after the All-Star break can be back-dated. If the wrist responds well to treatment, Mazara could be off the disabled list July 27 to open a three-game series at Houston.
Calhoun could very well be back with Round Rock. If he is productive and isn’t a liability defensively, he could earn a longer look.
But he’s with the Rangers now, at long last.
“Let’s get him in-house and let’s let him play,” Banister said. “We’ve got a number of guys here that are part of the whole process of playing. If Willie plays well and continues the process swinging the bat, most everybody makes their own pace by what they do on the field.
“We felt like this is the right time for him come up here and get an opportunity to play on this team. I think we’ll know more in the next couple days. It just got to a point where we felt it was best to put [Mazara] on the DL, let him go through the treatment, and get Willie up here. When Nomar’s ready to go, we’ll get him back in there.”