Texas Rangers

‘He’s in the right spot. It’s exciting. It’s just a matter of time’

The most impressive thing Joey Gallo did Saturday night came when he launched a three-run homer to center field in the eighth inning to propel the Texas Rangers to their first victory of 2019.

He also took some tight pitches above the belt, where pitchers have frequently found a hole in his swing.

The two hitting coaches made a suggestion to him for his final at-bat, and Gallo executed it.

Above those but just behind the homer, what impressed general manager Jon Daniels and left manager Chris Woodward joking had “kind of brought me to tears” was what Gallo said afterward.

The Rangers aren’t chasing results this season. They’re chasing the process.

Generally speaking, the process calls for the players to understand that data is their friend, that the changes being made are designed to make them better, that an 0 for 4 day is OK as long as the process was followed.

Each player has a specific process, and the work entering the regular season was ongoing. It might be an ongoing process indefinitely for some, and maybe more for Gallo than any other.

He’s on board, believing that he can be a better player than he already is and far better than many perceive him to be because of his .203 career average and his propensity for striking out.

“It sucks because I don’t get any credit,” Gallo said. “To an outside perspective, I’m just like a joke. I hit .200, and ‘He has no value and we don’t want him on the team.’ The baseball world understands the value that I bring. It is what it is.

“If I’m getting on base at a good clip and I’m slugging at a good clip, that’s my job. It’s different when you’re a contact guy or a speed guy hitting for a low average. For me it’s about producing runs, and I’ve done that my first two years. But I want to get better. I don’t want to hit .205 my whole career, obviously.”

Gallo was back in left field Monday and batting fifth in the opener of a three-game series against the Houston Astros. He went 0 for 3 as the Astros won 2-1.

Gallo has 82 home runs the past two seasons, and his first hit of 2019 was the 433-foot moon shot to center off Carl Edwards Jr. to erase a 6-5 deficit to the Chicago Cubs. However, his at-bats have been better through three games but also all of spring training.

He lined a single to left field Sunday to jump-start a four-run rally in the seventh and started the ninth with a double to left and eventually scored the winning run in an 11-10 victory.

Singles have been rarity for Gallo in his career, but singles to left field have been almost nonexistent.

“I told them I don’t know how I did that,” Gallo said. “I blacked out.”

Hitting coach Luis Ortiz told Gallo it was the result of what he has been working on the past four months, and Ortiz believes that Gallo can shed his low batting average.

It will take a better understanding of the strike zone and knowing how pitchers are trying to get him out. Gallo is also working a new swing path that keeps the bat in the strike zone longer.

Only a very small number of MLB hitters are pitched like Gallo is, Ortiz said. If a pitchers throws him a strike, it’s usually by mistake.

“People know he can do a lot of damage,” Ortiz said. “He’s aggressive. He wants to hit. He wants to help his team win. I think what he’s learning is that great hitters are great takers.”

Gallo’s improvement in laying off pitches is part of what has Ortiz excited about Gallo’s future. He showed in spring training a willingness to take a bunt against a shift if it’s there, though games situations will dictate that more than just trying to up his batting average.

Will he ever hit .300? Adrian Beltre believes Gallo is capable of it.

“I believe I can hit close to there at some point, but it’s about being consistent all year and staying with my approach and staying within myself,” Gallo said. “But it’s also learning and understanding the strike zone and pitchers and growing as a hitter.”

It’s going to take time, in other words. And that’s where chasing the process, not the results, comes into play. Gallo said that not having to worry about a long slump will help him avoid a long slump.

He also doesn’t want his process to take months or a season. The early results, from his game-winning homer to something as seemingly simple as laying off pitches, indicate that he might be moving quickly.

“It’s so positive all the stuff that he’s done,” Ortiz said. “He’s believing in it. He has confidence in it. Now, it’s just time. Something that you’ve done for so long, this isn’t going to click like that just because you want it. It’s the repetitions and slowing the game down and slowing the heart rate down and being able to let it happen.

“Consciously he knows what to do. The muscle memory is still going to be there. That’s probably thing that is going to take time. He’s in the right spot. It’s exciting. It’s just a matter of time.”

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After 12 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.