Gil LeBreton

Rangers’ Gallo no longer being defined by his strikeouts

Joey Gallo confesses it now. The strikeouts haunted him.

They ate away at his confidence. They shadowed him into the dugout.

But Gallo, 6-foot-5 and both blessed and cursed by his bold and sweeping batting swing, is always going to strike out a lot. It’s what guys who hit 443-foot home runs do.

“Yeah, I would get pretty hung up on the strikeouts,” Gallo admitted Sunday, after his five RBIs helped power the Texas Rangers to an 8-1 victory over the Oakland Athletics.

“Now I’ve kind of learned that the strikeouts are going to happen, and to not let it carry over into the next day, the next at-bat or the next week.

“If I strike out, I strike out. Pitchers are good up here. I just try to accept it and not wear it on my sleeve.”

As he stood at his clubhouse locker Sunday, Gallo’s hair was wet. For the first time since June 2, 2015 — he remembered precisely how long it had been — Gallo had received the ceremonial postgame water cooler shower.

“It felt a lot colder today,” the big third baseman reported.

The symbolism was not lost.

A 28-day call-up in June 2015 had introduced him to the major league club and whet its appetite for more. His final rookie ledger included 108 at-bats, six home runs and a .204 batting average.

More than half the outs — 57 by exact count — had been by strikeout.

Reviews have always been mixed on Gallo, though. Is he destined to become one of baseball’s next young stars, or just another Dave Kingman starter kit?

His 2016 season call-up — 25 at-bats and only one hit, a home run — was viewed by some as a step backwards. Instead of stardom being within reach, Gallo began to be identified by his strikeouts.

But the Rangers’ plan this spring was to change that. His name became a fixture in the team’s Cactus League lineup.

Gallo was being thrown into the deep end of the pool. One way or another, the Rangers wanted to see what they had.

Throughout spring training, whenever he was asked about Gallo, manager Jeff Banister prefaced his answer with something like he said Sunday:

“I think Joey has always believed in his own abilities.”

Banister explained that in a young player’s case, stubbornness can be a good thing.

“We talk about being stubborn with what you do, stubborn with your approach, because there are times when there are negative results and you can get off your approach,” Banister said. “I think he’s allowed himself to forget about the last at-bat and move forward.”

Gallo showed the roots of that confidence in spring training.

His second-inning, three-run homer Sunday came off a left-hander, Oakland’s Sean Manaea. His two-run single in the sixth came with two strikes.

“I’m not panicking,” Gallo said. “Before I’d panic and get to two strikes and think, ‘I can’t strike out.’

“It still sucks to strike out. I just don’t take it personally any more. Now if I strike out, I strike out. That’s what I do. But on my next at-bat, I can hit a three-run home run to win the game.”

Soon to be resolved is what happens when future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre returns to the lineup from the disabled list. Beltre surely will resume his place at third base, which would thrust Gallo into the mix for left field or first base.

The combination of Mike Napoli, Jurickson Profar and Ryan Rua has begun the season with a combined 4-for-39 at those two positions.

Banister needs to go with whoever has the hottest hand.

At the age of 23 years and five months, Gallo is still a fresh canvas.

There will always be strikeouts. It’s what big guys with big swings tend to do.

But you can measure Gallo’s progress by the way opposing teams have been pitching him. Pitchers are working to get him out — not just letting him strike himself out.

He’s a major league hitter now, not just some kid worrying about trying to impress the boss.

When Beltre comes back, you tell Joey Gallo where he gets to play, boss.

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