Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way: Joey Gallo should have been the MVP of the All-Star Game on Tuesday night at Cleveland.
The Texas Rangers outfielder’s home run to start the seventh inning, on the first pitch of the first All-Star at-bat of his career, turned out to be the difference in a 4-3 victory for the American League team.
Instead, right-hander Shane Bieber of the hometown Cleveland Indians was given the award for a perfect fifth inning in which he struck out the side. Bieber, by the way, was on the team because Rangers left-hander Mike Minor couldn’t pitch.
He will pitch Saturday in the Rangers’ third game of the second half. They resume play Thursday against the Houston Astros with Lance Lynn, who should have been an All-Star, on the mound.
Gallo is expected to be in the lineup after a stellar first half in which he batted .275 with 20 home runs and a 1.060 OPS. The home runs weren’t unexpected, but much of what he did over the first 90 games of the season he did for the first time in his career.
He and the Rangers believe a foundation is in place, predicated on strike-zone management, that will allow him to sustain his first-half pace.
Speaking bluntly, Gallo said he won’t regress and the Rangers insist he can get better.
“This is permanent for me,” he said.
The biggest test of that in the first half wasn’t an 0-for-15 skid early in the season or having to face Astros All-Star pitchers Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. It was the oblique injury that knocked him out last month for three weeks.
All that work that he had been doing and daily reminders he received about remaining disciplined stopped suddenly.
So long, rhythm and pitch recognition.
Gallo wasn’t Mike Trout hot when he return from the 10-day injured list June 25, but he batted .270 with three homers, a .400 on-base percentage and a .595 slugging percentage.
“I missed three weeks and was still able to come back and do the same thing,” he said. “After I got I hurt, I felt like if I can come back and be the same player then this is more than just a streak.”
His success starts with a better command of the strike zone.
Gallo took 75 walks in 2017 and 74 more last season, so he has always had a good eye. The difference this season is that he is chasing fewer pitches out of the strike zone.
Part of that comes with experience and an understanding of how pitchers are trying to get him out. The Rangers also showed him during the off-season the locations of the pitches he handles the best, and he has tried to stick with that.
“It’s really hard,” Gallo said. “I’m just understanding some situations better and using my experience to my benefit. I knew I had a good eye, but I had to hone in on it and understand that I would have to take some borderline pitches and not swing at everything I think I can hit.”
Hitting coach Luis Ortiz said before the season that Gallo was close to a breakthrough season. There were some swing changes, primarily trying to keep the bat in the strike zone longer and trying to convince Gallo that he doesn’t always have to swing with maximum effort.
A proper sequencing of his swing allows him to be more accurate with the barrel and make more contact.
“He had every offensive tool in abundance, the clay to become a great hitter,” Ortiz said. “Now, a great swing is wasted on a bad pitch, so I think he has learned that when he is stubborn in his area of damage, he can do some things in the game that not many people can do.”
“Force is about the sequence being correct. What needs to go first goes first. What needs to go second goes second. When you try to add effort, what needs to go third goes first. You get ahead of yourself. His sequence has improved, and because of that, he’s able to swing easier but still do a lot of damage.
“When he makes contact, he’s one of the best hitters in the world.”
That’s where the room to improve comes in. Gallo still swings and misses a lot -- he has 95 strikeouts in 61 games -- but he is making more hard contact this season than ever.
His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is .398.
“He still swings and misses. It’s not like he doesn’t,” manager Chris Woodward said. “A lot of his in-zone stuff is the same. He’s just eliminated the ones outside the zone. Now, he can actually focus on what he’s doing in the zone. There’s room for improvement there. He can’t wait.”