Texas Rangers

Mazara gives health a thumb’s up. But another change could help fuel his 2019 for Rangers

Nomar Mazara was streaking toward the best season of his career in 2018 before a thumb injury hampered him over the second half.
Nomar Mazara was streaking toward the best season of his career in 2018 before a thumb injury hampered him over the second half. AP

An injured thumb can wreck a season, as Nomar Mazara discovered in 2018.

His right thumb was damaged just before the All-Star break, while making a play in right field at Camden Yards. He tried to avoid the disabled list but couldn’t. He came off the DL a month later, and probably shouldn’t have.

A season in which he was streaking toward career-highs in many offensive categories ended up with him where he was the first two seasons of his career, 20 home runs and an average below .270.

Mazara knows all of the above, and that his career so far, built on so much promise, he has yet to reach expectations. The club’s, the fan base’s, his.

It’s not as if Mazara hasn’t been a good player, but he’s preparing to give expectations his best shot again.

“Last year when I got hurt I was in a good place after the first half,” Mazara said. “I was pretty locked in. But I know I can do more than that, and that’s why I’m working my butt off every day to get the best out of me for these guys.”

Health will be the key for Mazara, who has also been slowed by nagging leg injuries the past two seasons. The big one, though, is the thumb.

Rest has helped it mend, though Marzara said it’s still not as strong as it should be. Off-season surgery wasn’t an option, he said, but a hand specialist didn’t want to start over again following the healing the thumb had done on its own.

Mazara hasn’t faced any limitations this off-season and won’t be limited this spring. Pitchers and catchers report Wednesday to Surprise, Ariz.

“It’s nothing at all,” Mazara said. “Once I started working out, it was cold here, it started hurting again. I talked to the doctor, and he said that’s fine.”

Health alone won’t guarantee that Mazara improves on his first three seasons, which have ended with a combined .746 OPS, just below league average. It was sitting at .782, and he had 15 homers and 58 RBIs, when he was injured July 14.

Mazara said that he has found a quick comfort zone with hitting coach Luis Ortiz, who was a roving minor-league instructor when Mazara, Joey Gallo and Ronald Guzman made their professional debuts in 2011.

Mazara has seen and felt improvements in only three months of working with Ortiz after he followed manager Chris Woodward from the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“I think that’s the key for us to get us where we want to go and be as a players,” Mazara said. “The communication we have out here know is better than it was the year before. We’re excited, and I think we’re going to do a lot of good things this year.”

The Rangers prefer Mazara to be in right field, where he has less ground to cover at Globe Life Park than he would in left. That’s not to say he won’t occasionally play left field, perhaps in games when Gallo is in center.

Shin-Soo Choo could move into right field from designated hitter, and prospects Scott Heineman and Julio Pablo Martinez theoretically could see time there later in the season.

Heineman is recovering from off-season shoulder surgery, and Martinez might be on a fast track to the majors this season after making his U.S. debut following a defection from Cuba in 2018.

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram

After 11 seasons covering the Rangers for the Star-Telegram, Jeff Wilson knows that baseball is a 24/7/365 business and there is far more to baseball than just the 162 games each season. There’s also more to Jeff -- like a family and impressive arsenals of Titleist hats and adidas shoes -- but sometimes it’s hard to tell.