The question of how Willie Calhoun would get regular at-bats again was officially answered Monday afternoon, though the Texas Rangers had an idea of what the answer would be 24 hours earlier.
They placed Hunter Pence on the 10-day injured list a day after he strained his right groin playing outfield in a Sunday loss at Cincinnati, and reinstated Calhoun, who had been out since May 22 with a strained left quadriceps, to take Pence’s roster spot.
The good news is the Rangers are cautiously optimistic that Pence will miss only the 10 days, or not much more than that. There was also good news on Nomar Mazara, whose right knee pain is a mild strain of his hamstring that will not require time on the IL.
Even the news on Joey Gallo (left oblique) was good, aside from a flight cancellation that delayed his trip to Arizona for at-bats. He was scheduled to leave Monday night with the hope of being ready this weekend.
Yes, things could have been worse as the Rangers opened a four-game series against the Cleveland Indians, and the Rangers won 7-2 even though they were without a player who has gone from a spring question mark to a potential All-Star.
Pence’s performance is as big of a surprise as the second-place, above-.500 Rangers. Both were left on the side of road before the season, but they needed each other to get to this point.
“I love that our expectations are higher,” manager Chris Woodward said. “Whether that lasts and we sustain that is totally on us. Do we have a team that we feel like we can win every game? We do. They truly believe that.”
Woodward, for one, believes what he is seeing from Pence, who signed a minor-league deal with the Rangers just to attend spring training. His contract with the San Francisco Giants ended after last season, and they didn’t bring him back after his numbers declined and he was plagued by injuries.
Even Woodward thought Pence might retire after 12 big-league seasons.
Pence, though, reinvented his swing on the offseason, groomed it during spring training, and made the Opening Day roster. He had made a strong case by early May for regular playing time, and he has received it.
He hit the injured list batting .294 with 15 homers, a team-leading 48 RBIs and a .608 slugging percentage. Pence is second to J.D. Martinez of the Boston Red Sox in voting at designated hitter for the American League All-Star team.
Who else is surprised?
“At first maybe a little bit,” Woodward said. “Once I got to know who he was and how on another level he was willing become. Him digging into so many things ... he’s not afraid to talk about all the things that are going to make him successful or not. It’s been really impressive.”
The Rangers replaced Pence, an Arlington native, with Calhoun after four games on a rehab assignment with Triple A Nashville. Danny Santana was in right field for Mazara, and Shin-Soo Choo was the DH.
Right-hander Lance Lynn allowed one run in seven innings, and Santana hit a two-run homer in the fourth and scored from second on wild pitch in the sixth as the Rangers pulled away.
Choo could be in right field Tuesday if Mazara is ready to return. Woodward said Mazara would initially serve as the DH before resuming his spot in right field Wednesday, and another could be necessary for Gallo this weekend.
That will help make up for the bad news the Rangers received Monday, but, yes, things could have been worse.