On Friday night at Tigers Stadium, the Texas Rangers held off the host Detroit Tigers by a 5-3 score. The victory was a 10th straight for the streaking Rangers.
Now at 23-20, they have slipped to within 6.5 games of their in-state AL West Division rivals, the Houston Astros.
The Rangers have made this move without their future Hall of Fame third baseman Adrian Beltre in the lineup. Beltre injured his right calf just one week into the 2017 season, and has been on the Disabled List ever since.
Beltre is now on the road to recovery. Earlier this week, Jeff Wilson of the Star-Telegram reported that his return to the lineup is likely just a couple of weeks away. Wilson quoted Beltre after the Rangers training staff had allowed the now 38-year old to test the calf by running on it at half speed:
“It’s on the right track. I just have to make sure my legs are in shape and not to have any setbacks. So far, the plan the trainers have for me has been working, and I’m trying to follow that plan.”
Stepping into Beltre’s place in the lineup has been the man who is perhaps the future at the Hot Corner in Texas. Joey Gallo is a 23-year old who has been one of the club’s top prospects for years.
Gallo was the Rangers supplemental first round choice at 39th overall in the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft out of Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas.
YOUNG SLUGGER STEPPING UP
Gallo’s game is power. He crushed 22 home runs in his first minor league season as an 18-year old after signing during that summer of 2012. He followed that up by bombing 40 and 42 homers the following two seasons as he advanced through the Rangers minor league season.
Called up for the first time in early June of the 2015 season, Gallo has not been able to stick in Arlington. The big holes in his power swing have been exposed by big league pitching to this point.
However, with Beltre out this season, and with the Rangers lineup struggling for a good portion of his absence, Gallo’s power has fully emerged.
Gallo has also been aggressive on the base paths. His four stolen bases are as many bags as he swiped in the last two full minor league campaigns combined.
A big moment in last night’s victory over the host Tigers was yet another Gallo blast. With the Rangers clinging to a narrow 3-1 lead in the top of the sixth, the lefty hitter drove a Daniel Norris fastball deep into the right field seats. The two-run homer provided Texas with their ultimate margin of victory.
UPS OUTWEIGH DOWNS FOR NOW
It hasn’t been all rosy for Gallo. His 63 strikeouts are tops in the American League, and he is hitting just .188 with a .304 on-base percentage.
Prior to last night, Gallo hit .091 with just one home in his previous 29 plate appearances over eight games. But as Mike Heika with SportsDay at DallasNews.com reported, both Gallo and the Rangers believe that this recent slump was different.
“There’s some patience there. He’s not chasing,” Heika quoted Rangers manager Jeff Banister.
“I still think there are going to be times when pitchers are making good pitches on him, but the other night he put the ball in play four consecutive times and didn’t come away with a hit.”
If Gallo keeps up his power pace, it will be difficult for Banister to remove him from the lineup once Beltre returns. The dilemma will then be what to do with the youngster.
DIFFICULT LINEUP DECISIONS AHEAD
First base is manned by Mike Napoli. The 35-year old is a similar player, but from the right side of the plate. Napoli is second on the Rangers with nine long balls. However, the veteran is hitting just .182 with 50 strikeouts.
At the Designated Hitter spot, the Rangers have mostly gone with 34-year old veteran Shin-Soo Choo. The Korean native is hitting just .258 at this point. But Choo’s .377 OBP reflects a far greater level of consistency than either Napoli or Gallo provide.
If everyone is healthy, there remains a chance that Gallo could find himself back in the Pacific Coast League with AAA Round Rock. That would become a greater likelihood should his power slack off.
But what if Gallo does keep ripping balls into the night? What if he keeps helping power the club to victories as he did last night? That is when the aging veterans better have their games together. Otherwise, this time it may be one of them scraping for playing time.