Woodward: Pence, Choo give lesson in big-league hitting
Rest for the weary was in short supply Wednesday at Globe Life Park, where a third game in 30 hours was played between the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels.
They played 20 innings over a Tuesday doubleheader in heat indexes that approached as high as 110 degrees. The temperature was 91 at 9:30 p.m.
That long day came on top of the teams playing 11 innings Monday night ahead of the 1 p.m. start of the doubleheader.
To that end, players were allowed to show up for the finale of the four-game series later than normal, and neither team took batting practice. Both clubs were scheduled to travel after the game, with the Rangers expected to land in Chicago after midnight.
Ever heard of the grind or the dog days? This series and this month are the perfect example of each.
After another 3 hours, 46 minutes Wednesday and a third walk-off win in the series, the Rangers could rest on their flight north.
Here’s some Rangers Reaction from an 8-7 victory.
Shin-Soo Choo struck out in the seventh inning on a pitch out of the strike zone, and he wasn’t happy. In a rare display of anger, Choo slammed his bat into the ground.
“In six years, that’s probably something you’ve never seen,” Choo said.
He delivered the game-tying hit an inning later.
Hunter Pence struck out in his first three at-bats and was on the verge of doing again in the seventh inning. Instead, he singled in two runs to cut a 7-4 deficit to 7-6.
He wasn’t done, either. His single in the ninth inning was the game-winner.
While the Rangers are going young, they won’t be fielding a Triple A team the final six weeks and will be leaning on the players who helped get them into contention at the All-Star break.
They will slow the game down when it speeds up on the young players. They will set the example of how to give a professional at-bat each time.
Choo and Pence did that Wednesday.
“It’s something we actually talked about in one of our hitters meetings,” manager Chris Woodward said. “Regardless of how it starts or how your game is going or how every at-bat, don’t throw away your next one.”
Pence said that he had struck out in his past seven at-bats on six changeups and a curveball in the dirt as he was unable to get under the ball. He figured out an adjustment before the seventh.
“I felt like my timing was good,” Pence said. “Basically, I figured out I was cutting myself off. I tried to open up so I could get my barrel back on the path I want. That was the adjustment.”
Choo said that took a clear mind to the plate in the eighth against Hansel Robles, who he had faced two other times in the series. That help Choo dial in against the Angels’ best reliever.
“I really wanted to focus in my last at-bat,” he said. “It was a big situation. I just tried to make hard contact.”
He and Pence gave the kids a valuable lesson.
When it comes to pure stuff, few in the Rangers organization have what Jonathan Hernandez has.
His fastball can sit just below 100 mph. His relies on a pretty good slider for his main secondary pitch.
Hernandez dazzled Wednesday in his MLB debut, tossing 2 1/3 scoreless innings and picking up the win thanks to Pence’s walk-off hit.
“This is a dream come true,” Hernandez said. “Everybody from my home was waiting for me. That is a moment I will never forget.”
But he has been moved out of starting of late so that he can focus on maintaining a consistent arm slot. The Rangers believe that working him as a reliever can provide him with more repetitions and more chances to develop repeatable mechanics.
The door on him starting again isn’t closed, but the numbers he posted out of the bullpen at Double A Frisco and his debut indicate that he could be an effective multi-innings reliever.
“If I’m going to keep the team winning, me coming out of the ‘pen, I will do it,” Hernandez said. “Every time we’re winning, I’m good with that.”
The stuff he possesses could put him toward the top of a rotation. For a team looking to develop starting pitching, the Rangers should let Hernandez continue to start until it appears completely hopeless.
The Rangers made a surprising move before the game, sending down infielder Isiah Kiner-Falefa to make room on the roster for left-handed reliever Locke St. John to fortify a thin bullpen.
Kiner-Falefa had the misfortune of having minor-league options remaining, so he drew the short straw instead of, say, outfielder Scott Heineman. The Rangers explained that they want Kiner-Falefa to get regular at-bats at third base and shortstop ahead of a Sept. 1 call-up.
Those who like to read tea leaves should be intrigued by what the Rangers could have said but didn’t.
It sounds like the Rangers want Kiner-Falefa to find some rhythm at the plate and in the field so that he can play regularly when roster expand. That could be bad news for veteran Logan Forsythe’s playing time and also an indication that shortstop Elvis Andrus might get more days off in the final month.
The Rangers are going to need to open multiple spots on the 40-man roster for players they want to activate from the 60-day injured list (Yohander Mendez, Edinson Volquez) and non-roster players they might promote (Joe Barlow, Demarcus Evans). There are other possibilities.
First baseman Ronald Guzman, who is on the 40-man, seems like a lock to return. With Kiner-Falefa at third and Guzman at first, Forsythe doesn’t have a fit other than being a solid veteran presence.
The Rangers value that, but they are also in the midst of going young.