In camp on a minor-league deal signed in early February, Pence met expectations with his energy and presence in the clubhouse and exceeded expectations with his on-field performance.
The Arlington High graduate and former UT Arlington star is batting .333 (16 for 48) with a 1.028 OPS, three homers and six stolen bases. He will be the extra outfielder on manager Chris Woodward’s bench, providing a needed right-handed bat, even though he has played well enough to merit steady playing time.
But he came to Arizona knowing he had to win a spot in a competition that included Calhoun, who will open at Triple A Nashville. Even though Pence is a three-time All-Star with two World Series rings, he didn’t feel entitled to anything.
Hearing the news that he made the team stirred some emotions and rates as a significant career accomplishment.
“This is a really big deal, and it impacted me in a big way,” Pence said. “To be honest, the way I ended last year and how I played wasn’t good enough. I needed to get better, and I put my mind to it.
“It’s coming home playing for the team I grew up dreaming of and going to the ballpark. There’s just a lot of things that are really special about today. It means a lot, and I’m not going to take it for granted by any means.”
Pence was left to sign a minor-league deal after his contract with the San Francisco Giants expired last season, which was hampered by injuries. Pence, who turns 36 next month, batted only .226 in 235 at-bats and finished with a .590 OPS.
He went to work in the off-season on a new swing, testing it in the Dominican Summer League. He felt some shoulder discomfort early in camp, limiting him to designated hitter, but was the Rangers’ right fielder Thursday in a split-squad game against the Chicago White Sox.
Pence, who turns 36 on April 28, knows that he is a reserve player who will get most of his time against left-handed pitching. Bench players get more at-bats in the National League, and Pence said that he will have to adjust to being an American League reserve.
He is pleased with where his swing is.
“I feel really good and confident in it right now,” he said. “I feel really, really good every at-bat whether I get a hit or not. I have a very good idea of exactly what I’m doing, but with that being said, there’s still room for improvement.”
The Rangers were attracted to Pence because of his reputation as a terrific teammate and presence in the clubhouse, but that isn’t way he earned a spot on the 25-man roster.
He won it.
“We talk a lot about the leadership piece and all that, and that’s very real, but I think that does a disservice to the work he put in on his game,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “I don’t make too much of spring performance when it’s good or when it’s bad, but it’s been encouraging to see the life in the body.”