Texas Rangers

Why Hunter Pence might not return to Texas Rangers’ lineup until July

Texas Rangers outfielder Hunter Pence is unlikely to return to the roster until after the weekend series in Tampa Bay.

Pence, who has been on the injured list with a groin strain since June 17, is eligible to return Thursday.

Pence is one of three finalists for the designated hitter starting spot in the All-Star Game.

When he was first injured, Pence downplayed the Grade 2 strain and expected to return as soon as possible. But when he was asked about it before Tuesday’s game in Detroit he was less confident. He was running before the game at only 60 to 70 percent, according to Rangers manager Chris Woodward, which is still too far from being ready.

Woodward explained.

“It makes no sense to force something,” Woodward said. “I want him back in the lineup, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t know if that’s the smartest thing to do.”

Holding him back until the Rangers return to Arlington on July 1 against the Angels would keep Pence off the artificial turf in Tampa.

But it’s also about the roster and what a less-than-100 percent Pence would provide. He’d probably only be available as a designated hitter, especially in his first few games, if he’s not yet 100 percent healed. That puts unnecessary roster constraints on Woodward.

Delaying his activation also gives Woodward more time to consider his corresponding roster move, which is likely to be a tough one with either Willie Calhoun or Delino DeShields being forced back to Triple-A Nashville.

“[After the Tampa series] would make the most sense. I’m not ruling anything out because it is Hunter Pence,” he said. “That decision is going to hamper our roster no matter what way we go. I don’t want to have a guy who is not fully healthy taking up that spot.”

Pence has been taking swings in the cage but hasn’t faced live pitching since the injury. The club was considering having a minor league pitcher fly into Detroit to throw live to Pence but after Tuesday’s running session those plans might be put on hold.

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Stefan Stevenson has been covering sports for the Star-Telegram since 1997. He spent five years covering TCU athletics, which included two BCS bowls, two trips to the college World Series and the move to the Big 12. He has covered the Texas Rangers since 2014 and started reporting on the Dallas Cowboys in 2016.