Joey Gallo: To bunt or not to bunt
Oh, to be Drew Smyly, at least on Tuesday.
That has nothing to do with baseball but geography.
Smyly lives in Scottsdale. The beat writers are housed in Surprise. HoHoKam Park, spring home of the Oakland A’s is in Mesa, and it results in the longest road trip of the spring for the Rangers.
Smyly had the advantage of not having to drive to Surprise on Tuesday morning, and he said that he was just a quick postgame drive from home.
For those who haven’t heard, Phoenix-area traffic is horrendous. A long drive was going to be made even long by rush-hour traffic, and on a trivia night, no less.
The media knows that travel in the Cactus League is pretty sweet. The Grapefruit League’s shortest trip might be an hour for some teams, as they are spread across Florida.
The goal was to beat the amount of time it took media to get home Thursday from Tempe, 1 hour, 45 minutes. It is trivia night, after all.
Here’s the Surprise Five from Tuesday, and even the past few days, at Rangers spring training.
1. Three of the four outlets that cover the Rangers headed to Glendale on Sunday to watch Lance Lynn pitch and to listen to manager Chris Woodward talk.
Meanwhile, back at Surprise Stadium, Joey Gallo bunted, which is probably bigger news than Lynn’s pitching or Woodward’s talking. As we all know, there isn’t much that gets some fans’ dander up more than Gallo not bunting against an infield shift.
“We’re you not here? Then it didn’t happen,” Gallo said. “Yeah, it was cool.”
Gallo has shown bunt in each of his past two games. He did it in the first inning Saturday against the San Francisco Giants’ four-outfielder shift, which left the left side of the infield bare.
“I went to bunt against the Giants, and the pitch was three feet outside and it was called a [bleeping] strike,” Gallo said. “And then I was 0-1, but I couldn’t bunt. The approach was there, and the plan was there.
“I’m just trying to do it more. If they shift, here and there, just try to late it down. Screw it. I might as well.”
His lack of bunting first became an issue last season on Opening Day when the Houston Astros deployed the four-outfield alignment against him. He contends now, as he did then, that bunting is not easy, and bunting takes away his greatest asset.
But there will be situations when a bunt is the best play, Woodward said, like if the Rangers are down two with no outs in the seventh. Gallo said that shifts aren’t going anywhere and he needs to find ways to beat them.
Woodward does not want Gallo to become the league leader in bunt hits, but he does want enough bunts to perhaps force teams to shift Gallo less severely.
“He’s going to have some guys hitting behind him that can do some damage,” Woodward said. “If he feels it’s a tough at-bat or a tough matchup and he wants to put one down, yeah, absolutely.”
Gallo also isn’t hard of hearing or unable to read. He knows all about the people who think he should bunt a lot, even if that’s what the opposing time wants so that he doesn’t beat them with his 40-homer power.
“It’s annoying hearing about it every day,” Gallo said. “If I start doing it, maybe I’ll get yelled at less. But I think it can be beneficial as well. I’m definitely more open to it.”
2. Smyly isn’t yet to the point where he can dictate where he does or doesn’t pitch, no matter where he lives.
The left-hander hadn’t pitched more than an inning since undergoing Tommy John surgery July 6, 2017, and he said that he needs to be facing the best hitters the Rangers can find for him to pitching against.
The A’s had a good deal of their regulars in the lineup, though not Rangers killer Khris Davis as he deals with a calf strain. Smyly moved right through them, allowing only a walk in two innings.
The pitching was good, though Smyly said that he dealt with some mechanical issues in the first inning. The biggest thing is that, yes, he can pitch more than an inning.
That’s kind of important for a starting pitcher, who gauges his arm strength each spring by the ability to be effective after sitting between innings.
It’s part of the ups and downs of spring, so to speak.
“Anytime you get to take the mound and compete, it’s a fun day,” Smyly said. “There were a lot of encouraging signs – just the up-down, how I came out feeling better in the second than the first even though it was the first time I’ve thrown multiple innings in some time.”
Smyly might not face division foes later in camp when he would run through a lineup multiple times, but it’s not a big deal early. He also likes pitching on the road, when opposing managers typically put their best players in the lineup.
Considering where he’s been the past few seasons, the more Cactus League outings the better.
“I want to be in the stadium with the fans and the atmosphere,” Smyly said. “I don’t want to go to the back fields. I want to stay in the stadium to pitch.”
3. Five down on the USA Today crossword puzzle Tuesday was “advancement on a balk,” seven letters. Twenty-one across was “dugout rack items,” four letters.
For any baseball fan who doesn’t know the answer, it’s time to turn in your card.
Two pitchers who regularly work the USA Today crossword each day and were working them Tuesday – right-handers Connor Sadzeck and Adrian Sampson -- are part of the Rangers’ bullpen puzzles, though most clues have been answered.
There are two open spots remaining, and Sadzeck is a front-runner for one in part because he is out of minor-league options. Sampson has a tough road with the Rangers needing starting depth in the minors, but they also would like to carry a long man in perfect world.
Jason Hammel would seem to have the edge there, though, and he made his spring debut Tuesday with two scoreless innings. Woodward said that Hammel has enough time to get stretched out even though he was the last player to make his spring debut.
“You could see today he looked pretty good,” Woodward said.
(Well, outfielder Zack Granite hasn’t played yet for the Rangers, but he played a couple times for the Minnesota Twins before they traded him Sunday.)
The question with Hammel, who has pitched in the majors the past 13 seasons, is if he will take an assignment to the minor leagues if he doesn’t make the team. He can take free agency at the end of camp if he isn’t added to the roster.
4. Delino DeShields was back in the Rangers’ lineup Tuesday after sitting out a few days with swelling in his right knee after injuring hit in the first spring came trying to make a catch at the center-field wall.
He insisted all along that he was healthy enough to play, but the Rangers wouldn’t allow it.
“Blame me for that one,” Woodward said.
Shin-Soo Choo made his debut in the outfield after dealing with inflammation in his left shoulder. He also insisted all along that he was healthy enough to play, but the Rangers wouldn’t allow it.
Go ahead and blame Woodward for that one, too.
Infielder Chase d’Arnaud (oblique) should soon be ready to play, and outfielder Hunter Pence (shoulder) is on a throwing program and is progressing toward a game. Infielder Christian Lopes, though, is still being hampered by an oblique injury.
5. Word came from Pittsburgh Pirates camp over the weekend that former Rangers closer Keone Kela, now a set-up man after he was dealt at the trade deadline, declared the he won’t talk to the media this season.
He’s in midseason form.
Kela, to his credit, departed from his usual anti-media approach last spring after walking into the clubhouse one day, seeing looking various reporters, and cursing at us.
Or maybe he was talking about trucks and we just got it all wrong. It wasn’t the first time.
This time, Kela was informed by general manager Jon Daniels and then-manager Jeff Banister to pull himself together, and he did. But it was temporary, apparently.
No player is required to talk to the media, and it happens from time to time. When it does, say after blowing a late-inning lead, teammates don’t look favorably upon a player who isn’t accountable with the media.
Kela was talked about that, too, during his time with the Rangers.
Maybe someone who works for the Pirates and knows Kela will have some wise words for him. Oh, like Banister.