Willie Calhoun appeared Friday afternoon in the Texas Rangers clubhouse, the worst of his illness behind him.
He even had his uniform on and was a full participant before the opener of the Rangers’ three-game weekend series against the playoff-contending Oakland Athletics.
As for once the game started, well, the highly regarded hitting prospect was on the bench. The lineup was as it has been — regulars filling the positions where Calhoun can play.
Nomar Mazara was in right field, and the only thing different than much of the season was Drew Robinson playing center field.
The Rangers need to look at him, too, but need to continue to see Gallo. They sure the heck aren’t going to give Mazara a day off to accommodate Calhoun.
Mazara needs September at-bats as much as anyone else. He lost a month to a sprained right thumb, which is still bothering him, and yet he is doing exactly what the Rangers hoped he would do in the final month.
He’s finishing strong, albeit with 22 games still to be played.
“My goals are I just want to finish strong and I want my thumb to get back to where it used to be,” Mazara said. “Before I was hurt I was on a pace where I’d have more RBIs than last year and more home runs than that last year, but I don’t even care about that. I just cared about the way I was feeling at the plate. My timing was a lot better than the past two years.”
Mazara appears to have found his timing again.
He entered Friday 8 for 19 in four September games with four homers, three doubles and 10 RBIs. The only MLB players with as many RBIs are Alex Bregman, Trevor Story and Stephen Piscotty.
Only Bregman and Story have more extra-base hits than Mazara’s seven, and just by one.
Barring a mammoth month, Mazara won’t top the 101 RBIs he drove in last season — he was 30 shy entering the weekend —but he has already matched his career-high of 20 homers in each of his first two seasons.
Manager Jeff Banister had seen a breakthrough coming for Mazara, who was only 9 for 45 after initially coming off the disabled list Aug. 16.
“About I week ago I was asked where the power went to, and I made the comment that I thought he was really close,” Banister said. “It was just the things that you see — the work, the BP, the sharpness, balls that he’s swing at. I thought it was just the rhythm and time of his swing that needed to get back on track.”
As is often the case when hitters are hot, Mazara has started using the opposite field more. He’s not just slapping singles to left field but driving doubles and home runs to left and left-center.
“That’s when you know he’s fairly locked in,” Banister said.
Mazara is doing it even though his thumb still bothers him. He jammed it again Aug. 26 while diving to make at catch at San Francisco and has again been bothered at the plate when he swings and misses.
How the thumb feels varies from at-bat to at-bat. Sometimes he tries to protect the thumb, and that contributed to some of his woes.
Postseason surgery has not been discussed. Just rest, and the Rangers will get that as soon as their season ends Sept. 30. The injury has sucked some of the joy out of Mazara’s season.
“It was kind of sad that I had to sit down and wait,” he said. “It kind of messed everything up. I got back and it’s probably 70 percent. It still hurts. I’m just trying to survive out there. Some days are good.”
So far this month, his days have been very good. It’s part of the strong finish the Rangers are hoping he can complete.
“It would be a plus for him,” Banister said. “You want to know you can play and perform in September. Last year, getting to 100 RBIs was a significant accomplishment for him. He gutted through injuries then, too. These moments are maturity moments. When you are a core player, you don’t always get to go out on the field feeling great. He’s grinded through.”