Texas Rangers

Doubleheader vs. Angels marks biggest jump in Rangers’ end-of-season youth movement

Nick Solak started Tuesday in Oklahoma, ended it with Rangers

Second baseman Nick Solak made his MLB debut Tuesday for the Texas Rangers in their doubleheader against the Los Angeles Angels.
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Second baseman Nick Solak made his MLB debut Tuesday for the Texas Rangers in their doubleheader against the Los Angeles Angels.

Not every player in the Texas Rangers clubhouse was new to Nick Solak on Tuesday morning.

The second baseman knew the starting pitcher for Game 1 of the doubleheader against the Los Angeles Angels, when Solak would make his MLB debut, and also knew the Game 2 starter, who was making his MLB debut.

Solak, Joe Palumbo and Brock Burke had been at Triple A Nashville together as recently as Sunday, and outfielder Scott Heineman and reliever Phillips Valdez were there, too.

Five others had crossed paths with Solak since he joined the organization July 13.

That made 10 players on the Rangers’ rosters for the doubleheader who had jumped from Nashville since Solak was acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay. Two more on the rosters jumped this month from Double A Frisco.

The Rangers’ youth movement, or 2020 tryout camp, is in full swing and was evident throughout a long, hot Tuesday at Globe Life Park that saw the teams split.

“Ever since getting traded over about a month ago, I was really excited to join the Texas Rangers organization and going to Nashville and help that team win games and let the piece fall where they will,” Solak said. “So, it’s exciting that I made my debut today and got the first hit out of the way and am just looking at playing good baseball.”

Burke dazzled in Game 2 with six scoreless innings on four hits and two walks to become the first left-hander in club history (fourth pitcher overall) to toss at least six scoreless innings in his first MLB game. One of his four strikeout victims was MVP front-runner Mike Trout.

Solak, playing second base, hit his first MLB home run in the fifth to break a scoreless tie and put Burke in a position for the win.

After the bullpen failed to hold a 2-0 lead after seven innings, Solak’s 11th-inning one-hopper got past Albert Pujols and brought in the winning run on what was scored an error.

Solak was the designated hitter in Game 1, a 5-1 Rangers loss in which he collected one of the four hits of Angels left-hander Andrew Heaney.

Palumbo, who was the 26th player for the doubleheader, lasted only 1 2/3 innings in Game 1 because of a blister on his left thumb, and has landed on the seven-day injured list at Nashville.

The Rangers hope he can pitch again this season.

“You just don’t know until it heals and he starts throwing,” manager Chris Woodward said. “That could probably be at least a week, so I’m guessing he won’t be back until September at least.”

All three are being evaluated for 2020, though neither has a clear path to the Opening Day roster. Solak’s position is occupied by Rougned Odor, and the Rangers are concerned about having too many lefties in the rotation.

Woodward said that he’s looking forward to seeing how the newcomers fare over the final 35 games. Jonathan Hernandez and Burke were officially added for Game 2. More players are expected to be added once rosters expand Sept. 1.

“It’s cool, isn’t it,” Woodward said. “I love it. That’s our future. I have full faith that we’re going to win a lot of games with these guys. I don’t care what people say. ‘Aw, they’re young. They’re rookies.’ I don’t care. I love that. These guys are ready to play.

“As long as they’re willing to learn to get through some of the ups and downs of the big leagues, I love putting them out there. They’re our future. They’re hopefully guys that we’re going to win championships with, and we need to get them involved in our processes and our meetings and just our cultures and start that belief now.”

Solak wasn’t told until late Tuesday morning that he was joining the roster. He had flown from Oklahoma City, where Nashville was playing, in the morning and waited until the Rangers placed right fielder Nomar Mazara on the 10-day IL (strained left oblique).

While he knew 40 percent of the players on the roster, he didn’t know the players who have been with the team all season. He had never met Woodward or the coaches, either.

“I’d been traded before, so I knew a little about going to a new organization and meeting the guys,” Solak said. “Everything was happening really fast today, as far as flying up here and having a doubleheader and a later clubhouse opening and trying to meet everybody I could. But it’s very welcoming and exciting and a really good group of guys that welcomed me and made me feel comfortable right when I got here.”

Woodward said that he briefly explained to Solak the culture and expectations — tight-knit, hard-working, be ready to learn — and sensed that the messaged was well-received by one of the hottest hitters this month in the minors.

Solak had his 18-game hitting streak snapped Monday, in large part because he was pulled from the game once Mazara and Danny Santana (left hamstring) left the Rangers’ game early.

Solak hit .416 (32 for 77) with 17 runs and six homers in final 19 games at Nashville. His strength is his understanding of the strike zone, something the Rangers have been seeking from Odor his entire career.

“Just trying to keep things simple and not trying to do too much,” Solak said. “Usually when I can keep things simple, the numbers take care of themselves and the at-bats take care of themselves. I just remind myself that.”

The Rangers will be learning more about him and many others the rest of the season.

Texas Rangers manager couldn’t forecast how much time left-hander Joe Palumbo will need for the blister on his them to heal.

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After 11 seasons covering the Rangers for the Star-Telegram, Jeff Wilson knows that baseball is a 24/7/365 business and there is far more to baseball than just the 162 games each season. There’s also more to Jeff -- like a family and impressive arsenals of Titleist hats and adidas shoes -- but sometimes it’s hard to tell.