Hunter Pence’s career resurgence earns All-Star starting spot
Things are moving at a cautious pace with Texas Rangers All-Star starter Hunter Pence and that right groin injury that sent him to the injured list on June 17.
Pence will head to Double-A Frisco on Monday for an injury rehabilitation assignment and play at least one game, mostly looking to regain his timing at the plate.
But how will that impact his status for the All-Star Game, for which he was named the American League’s starting designated hitter?
The Rangers could have used Pence’s bat in a 5-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on Saturday, though.
Texas saw its six-game winning streak come to an end by Rays rookie left-hander Brendan McKay, who making his major-league debut. He retired his first 16 batters and took a perfect game into the sixth inning before Danny Santana broke it up with a one-out bloop single to right field.
The Rangers, who averaged five runs per game during the six-game winning streak, will no doubt receive an offensive boost when Pence returns. He’s batting .294 with 15 home runs and 48 RBIs.
Rangers manager Chris Woodward said Pence deserves the All-Star Game showcase.
“We talked about it (sitting out the All-Star Game), but it’s different because he’s a DH,’’ Woodward said. “With his age (36) and him starting, it is not something I can tell him to do.
“Hopefully, he’ll have some games leading up to it. He’s not going to play the whole (All-Star) game, I would assume. They’ll get him out there for a couple of at-bats. They’ll want to play some of the others. He doesn’t have to run all out. He could run 30 percent for all I care. It’s an All-Star Game.’’
Pence said he’s looking forward to his fourth All-Star Game (he was selected for the National League team three times while with the San Francisco Giants).
“It’s a huge honor,’’ Pence said. “In a way, I still can’t believe (being voted as the starting DH). It’s definitely something you look back on with pride after your career is over.
“At the moment, I’m following the plan and trying to get back on the field. I feel good. Everything is going well and I think it’s just a matter of time.’’
Initially, Woodward said he thought Pence might play in the series against the Rays, who are battling the Rangers for the AL’s top spot in the wild-card race.
“This series is important, but there’s also a lot of baseball to be played,’’ Woodward said. “We need Hunter to be healthy. Players get eager and tend to come back too early.
“He needs to get some at-bats because it’s going on a week to 10 days (without seeing live pitching). That’s his idea. Once he does that and if everything is fine, he’ll be back.’’
Saturday, the Rangers managed only five hits against McKay (one hit and two baserunners in six innings) and three relievers. They scored in the eighth when Asdrubal Cabrera led off with a double (breaking an 0-for-21 skid), then later scored from third on a wild pitch and in the ninth on Logan Forsythe’s RBI grounder.
Meanwhile, the Rays blasted three home runs — a two-run shot by Avisail Garcia off Rangers starter Adrian Sampson (6-5) in the second, then back-to-back solo clouts by Willy Adames and Travis d’Arnaud off reliever Peter Fairbanks in the seventh.
Back and forth they go: The Rays (47-36) surged ahead of the Rangers (46-37) for the AL’s top wild-card spot. … The Rangers had a string of not trailing at the end of 53 consecutive innings — dating to June 22 against the White Sox — but it ended when the Rays took a 3-0 lead in the second. … Second baseman Rougned Odor, who suffered what Woodward described as a mild left hamstring cramp in Friday night’s ninth inning, wasn’t in Saturday’s starting lineup. With the Rays starting a pair of left-handers this weekend, Woodward said Odor was due for a day off anyway. Considering his cramp, Saturday became the best choice. … The Rangers signed right-handed pitcher Austin Bibens-Dirkx, who was 7-5 with the club in 2017-18. Bibens-Drikx, scheduled to start Saturday night with Triple-A Nashville, was 2-5 with a 5.68 ERA in 15 games this season with the UniLions of Taiwan’s Chinese Professional Baseball League. … Right-handed pitcher Kyle Dowdy was transferred from Arizona to Nashville while continuing his injury rehabilitation assignment.