As the return of Rougned Odor neared early this month, the Texas Rangers busied themselves trying to find ways to keep the hot-hitting Jurickson Profar in the lineup as often as possible.
Games could be had at second base, shortstop and designated hitter. Profar was even given a crash course at first base and started there the next night. Sticking him at a completely new position was preferred to letting him play third base, where he had been previously.
That wasn’t because the Rangers didn’t think he couldn’t play there. It was because Adrian Beltre doesn’t want days off and refuses to take them unless something happens to him physically.
And it had better be serious.
Well, his strained left hamstring is serious enough for him to not be in the lineup for the sixth consecutive game Tuesday, and he won’t be back for at least one more game even though he declared himself fit to play Monday.
So, Profar was the Texas Rangers’ third baseman for the sixth straight game and has been a player for them in all 18 games since he was promoted from Triple A Round Rock on May 27.
He had hits in the first 13 games, which might seem like he was trying to make up for time lost because of a shoulder injury that cost him the past two seasons.
“I worked very hard the last two years to make sure when I came back I looked like this,” Profar said. “Just get healthy and work hard and just try to make sure when I came back I looked good. I just kept my mind positive and worked hard.”
The talent is apparent, aided by off-the-charts instincts from a player who has been around seemingly forever but is still only 23. Time has always been on Profar’s side.
Two years, though, can be an eternity in baseball. Profar, who was expected to be the starting second baseman in 2014, wasn’t just sitting around on a couch not doing anything the first year, and he attempted to come back three times from a torn teres major muscle.
But each time he reached 105 feet in his throwing program, the muscle gave again. Dr. Keith Meister, the team physician, ultimately discovered that Profar had a torn labrum from a few years earlier that was never repaired and was not offering the shoulder enough support.
Surgery was needed in February 2015 at the expense of another season.
“At first, when I was sore, I was like, ‘I don’t know about this,’ ” Profar said. “But then it just felt great, and it’s feeling great. I work hard on it every day and make sure I’m doing my stuff to keep it healthy.”
The arm looked strong in spring training, with Profar making throws from deep in the hole between second and third base and making throws from awkward angles. Those showed the confidence he had in his arm.
But as recently as last month, Profar wasn’t entirely pleased with his approach at Triple A Round Rock. It was serving him well against Pacific Coast League pitchers, but he didn’t think he was in a good enough place to face American League pitchers.
Whatever adjustments he had left to make he apparently made in time for his debut. He entered Tuesday batting .343 with a .370 on-base percentage and a .514 slugging percentage even though he was only 3 for 16 four games into the road trip.
“I’m just going up there and trying to grind and have great at-bats,” Profar said.
If Beltre is deemed ready to play Thursday, Profar’s at-bats will begin to disappear. Even if Beltre landed on the DL, eventually Profar will run out of regular playing time.
But he has shown the Rangers that he can be a quality big-league player after missing two seasons. Other teams have seen it, too, and also see the logjam the Rangers have up the middle.
“He’s been hot,” shortstop Elvis Andrus said. “We knew how talented he is. For two years without playing baseball I’m really amazed at everything he’s doing for us. I’m just happy he’s healthy and is on the field.”
Profar wants to be in the major leagues, where he always thought he would be again even if outsiders weren’t so sure.
“For me, it’s not a surprise,” he said. “A lot of people may be because they never saw me play. For me, I’m just going to take this time and keep working.”
Rangers at Athletics
9:05 p.m. Wednesday, FSSW