The reasons for his popularity are obvious the minute you talk to him for the first time. His graciousness and straight-forward answers to questions after an outing — good or bad — have been good for the beat writers and media covering the team. In short, he’s a veteran who is trying to help you do your job while also not piling on the cliches.
And his personality is more than just a little bit of the reason he’s become such a beloved teammate. His success out of the bullpen, of course, especially when Texas was floundering for answers early in the season, has also helped.
With the White Sox rallying in the eighth and Pete Fairbanks knocked out after struggling with his command, the tying run was at third base with one out. Brett Martin struck out Yonder Alonso for out No. 2 with Texas clinging to a 5-4 lead. That’s when Kelley took over to face Tim Anderson. Earlier in the inning, Kelley had bullpen coach Oscar Marin call to the dugout to make sure manager Chris Woodward knew Kelley was available for an out in the eighth. And that he was ready to go for his first four-out save since June 2016 when he was with the Nationals.
Woodward was already thinking that he’d love to have Kelley come in to face Anderson no matter if the game was tied or the Rangers still led.
“So it kind of answered that question for me,” Woodward said with a smile. “Kelley is not a guy we really like to go four outs with. We like to keep his pitch total down. Not that he’s not capable of throwing a number of pitches he’s just not as effective. He’s so max on every pitch it’s not in his best interest or in ours to keep him out there too long. We obviously knew he matched up well against Anderson. He wanted the opportunity in the end.”
Kelley makes it a habit of of following closely to how each at-bat is going in the later innings in case he’s called upon. That’s what he was doing on Sunday.
“I’m not the freshest I’ve ever been but I felt like I could get four outs if we needed it,” he said. “I told [Marin] to call down and let them know because if that’s something they want to do they need to know I’m willing to do it and I need to start getting ready. He maybe went 2-0 to the next guy and the phone call came and I started getting ready.”
At that point in the game, Kelley said, it didn’t matter to him whether he was facing a right-handed hitter or left-handed hitter.
“If Woody thought that I could be of assistance, I wanted him to know I was ready to come in in the eighth,” Kelley said.
The Rangers went 4-3 on the homestand. They begin a six-game road trip with three in Detroit on Tuesday and finish with a three-game set in Tampa Bay on Friday.
Three reactions to the Rangers’ finale win:
1. Gallo’s return set with Bird optioned
Left-handed reliever Kyle Bird was optioned after Sunday’s game to make room for Joey Gallo, who is expected to rejoin the team Tuesday in Detroit.
Bird, 26, was called up from Triple-A Nashville on Thursday to help provide depth in the bullpen. He didn’t see any action. He had six appearances earlier in the season.
Gallo has been in Surprise, Ariz., rehabbing from his strained left oblique this week. He was placed on the injured list on June 2.
2. Shin-Soo Choo keeps churnin’
Shin-Soo Choo is having one of the best seasons of his career and, according to Woodward, at least lately, Choo’s numbers should be even better.
“If you look at lately, he’s been really, really unlucky and he’s still getting his hits which is pretty remarkable because he could be hitting much better,” said Woodward of Choo’s numerous line outs over the weekend. “Most guys would be trying to hang themselves if they did that. He’s still getting hits on top of that. It’s almost every ball he’s hitting is hard.”
Although he struck out twice on Sunday, he reached base with a first-inning single and an E3. In 21 June games he has 21 hits. His .899 OPS is the highest he’s had in 11 seasons.
“He works so hard on his timing and his sequencing. That’s why he’s able to differentiate ball/strike and do damage on strikes,” Woodward said.
3. Matt Bush close
Reliever Matt Bush is just about ready to rejoin the Rangers, according to Woodward. Basically, the only thing holding him back is precaution. The Rangers want to take it slow as the right-hander returns from September shoulder surgery. Bush has been outstanding in six appearances for Double-A Frisco. He hasn’t allowed a run on two hits and two walks in 6 1/3 innings. He’s struck out five.
Woodward said the sooner Bush is called up, the more he would have to be monitored closely as far as pitch count and usage. Letting him get more work in the minors will make him more flexible later out of the Rangers’ bullpen.
“It’s coming out good. We probably need to see a few more outings just to make sure before we get him back. But the earlier we call him up, the more careful we have to be,” said Woodward, who compared Bush’s situation with Pete Fairbanks. “We’re just not going to pitch him back to back. There are certain things we’re not going to do until he gets solidified. But he’s throwing really well. Firm, hard slider. Good stuff. We’re excited, that could be a nice boost to the bullpen.”