A road trip for the Texas Rangers meant another chance to dress up for the flight to the West Coast, with the theme Wednesday being basketball jerseys.
Right-hander Jesse Chavez hatched the idea, said manager Chris Woodward, and there was a pretty solid assortment of pro, college and fictional.
The Dallas Mavericks were well represented, with Dirk Nowtizki and Luka Doncic, and so were the Golden State Warriors. Shin-Soo Choo sported a cream/gold Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls jersey, No. 23 and not No. 45.
That might have qualified him for the top three of those media had a chance to see Wednesday.
Here’s the list:
3. Jeffrey Springs: Michael Jordan, No. 23, North Carolina Tar Heels
2. Tony Beasley: Jimmy Chitwood, No. 15, Hickory Huskers
1. Drew Smyly: Mike Bibby, No. 10, Vancouver Grizzlies
Granted, Bibby isn’t exactly a role model of late. The nephew of former Rangers pitcher Jim Bibby was accused in February of sexual abuse stemming from a 2017 incident, but Phoenix police did not find enough evidence to file charges and closed the case in April.
But Smyly brought A game for dress-up day, pulling off a Vancouver Grizzlies jersey. Bryant Reeves would been mind-blowing. Smyly said he wanted a jersey no one else would have had.
As for his start Friday, his goal was to be better in the first inning. He was, tossing a scoreless inning.
Was the rest of the outing Smyly’s A game?
Here’s some Rangers Reaction from a fifth straight victory, this one 4-3 victory over the Los Angeles Angels.
1. The first inning was such a roaring success for Smyly that he must have forgotten about pitching the second, when the Angels hit two homers and tallied three runs to erase a 1-0 lead the Rangers had take on a leadoff homer by Choo.
But all things being relative, that was Smyly’s A game this season. It resulted in his first win since Sept. 13, 2016, after missing the past two seasons because of Tommy John surgery.
He knew, too.
“I know it’s been a really long time since my last win with the surgeries and the two seasons off and the struggles so far this season,” Smyly said. “It feels like a monkey is off my back, I can get that next win and start to move forward.”
Smyly’s fifth inning was definitely A material, at least after the single and double to start the inning put runners at second and third. The Angels, though, didn’t score. Shohei Ohtani lined out, Albert Pujols struck out and Jonathan Lucroy, who hit the first of the second-inning homers, flied to left field.
The Rangers quickly scored a run to cut their deficit to 3-2, and Smyly went back out and tossed a scoreless sixth. It was a shutdown inning that keep momentum with the offense, and, indeed, the offense scored twice to take the lead and put him in position to earn the W.
“That was huge,” Smyly said. “That was, basically, the turning point of the game.”
Smyly was done after six innings and three runs. Hey, that’s a quality start.
Smyly became only the third Rangers starter this season with a quality start. Mike Minor and Lance Lynn have six apiece. Adrian Sampson allowed one run over six innings in his 2019 debut, but that was in long relief of Smyly.
This isn’t the first time the Rangers (or media) have something resembling progress for Smyly, but this is the first time it the progress isn’t some sort of silver lining after a subpar outing.
And it was a win.
“I put so much hard work in with my recover and just so far this season trying to battle and get better each game,” Smyly said. “There’s been some hardship along the way. No one said it was going to be easy, but I feel that I am improving every game.”
2. If I had to guess, Delino DeShields didn’t really want to talk to the beat guys before the game. He initially didn’t give a lot of insight, but warmed up a little by the end of the short session.
And who couldn’t warm up around sportswriters?
He isn’t happy, obviously, but he’s being professional. He knows that all he can control is trying to get better and force the Rangers to take note of his improved play while he is at Triple A Nashville.
That’s where he is headed. The Rangers optioned him after the game Friday to clear a roster spot for Elvis Andrus, who on Saturday will be reinstated from the 10-day injured list.
DeShields did his best to answer the questions, but the bulk of the questions are for Rangers brass. It’s really just one question: Do they still believe that DeShields can be an everyday major-league center fielder?
Three of their top prospects in the minors play center field (Leody Taveras, J.P. Martinez and Bubba Thompson), but many with the Rangers don’t see DeShields as a placeholder. They see a legit everyday center fielder.
But that’s if he can find a consistent, productive swing. He’s one of several players who were asked to make changes in the off-season and trust the process, though he thought he would get more of a chance to stick to the process with lackluster results.
He didn’t, and now he has to make progress whenever and wherever he can.
And he’s not happy that it’s at Triple A.
Who would be?
Pence started the sixth with a double and scored two batters later as Brian Goodwin couldn’t secure Asdrubal Cabrera’s short flyball to right field. That made it 3-2.
(For Cabrera, that’s two road RBIs this season and an American League-best 25 at home.)
The Rangers took advantage of some lousy Angels fielding and possibly as friendly call by plate umpire Mark Wegner. Pence singled sharply to center with two outs, and Choo and Logan Forsythe raced home for a 4-3 lead.
“He’s just fearless,” Woodward said. “No matter what the situation is, he wants to be there. A lot of guys are feeding off that. Any anxieties these guys may have in those situations may go away when they see Hunter in those situations.”
Pence is up to 33 RBIs, which is only two behind Joey Gallo for the team lead, and he’s played only 34 of the Rangers’ 48 games. His 25 runs are third on the club, and his average (.317) and OPS (1.014) rank second.
He doesn’t have enough plate appearances to be qualify as a league leader, but those two stats would rank in the top 10.
It appears safe to say those off-season swing changes are working out pretty well.