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Plan B.

I didn’t love that Sam Dyson had to pitch the ninth inning on Tuesday, and I didn’t love that Nick Martinez got off the bullpen bench in the third inning on Wednesday, starting to get loose as Oakland was busy sending eight hitters to the plate against Derek Holland.

Hours earlier, Jeff Banister had hinted in an MLB Network Radio interview that Martinez, recalled the day before to replace Tom Wilhelmsen on the big league staff, was the odds-on candidate to take Yu Darvish’s start (rather than Cesar Ramos) Saturday in St. Louis.

Now he was having to prepare to enter a game that already felt like it was slipping away, possibly used in a loss and potentially compromising the team’s chances in another game three days later.  

That’s not to say Nick Martinez is a core member of the pitching staff, but if the club had planned to start him Saturday, it looked like Plan B was going to have to be enacted, and when smart folks are making plans, Plan B is usually less preferable than Plan A.  

Holland got through the third, stranding two and holding the score at 3-0, but he didn’t survive the fourth, throwing 10 of his first 14 pitches in that frame for balls (walk, lineout, walk), and fanning Yonder Alonso on eight pitches before handing the ball to Banister, who handed it to Martinez.

The righthander’s first pitch, doubled by Billy Burns, put two final runs on Holland’s ledger.

It was Oakland 5, Texas 0 at that point.  Then things changed.

Martinez ended the fourth, Texas went quietly in the fifth, and Oakland reached once in the bottom of that frame but didn’t score.

The Rangers then put together their own eight-hitter inning — homer, double, double, groundout, sac fly, single, homer, lineout — and suddenly 5-0 was 5-5.

Martinez came back out and threw first-pitch strikes to the first three of four A’s who hit in their sixth (groundout-groundout-single-strikeout), 12 of 17 overall, and his 45-pitch night was done.

And then Robinson Chirinos homered for the second time in two innings, putting Texas ahead and lining things up for a Matt Bush seventh, a Jake Diekman eighth, and a Dyson ninth.  

Nine up, nine down.

Bush and Diekman and Dyson were used on a night when Texas was losing by five runs in the fourth inning, and this time it was a really awesome thing that they were needed.

They were needed because the Rangers got to Sonny Gray (nine quality starts against Texas out of 10) and got to John Axford (seven straight scoreless outings, and 12 of 13) and got to Sean Doolittle (eight straight scoreless outings, and 14 of 15).

And because Nick Martinez, a second baseman at Fordham University who mixed in 26.1 college innings on the mound, enough of which Rangers area scout Jay Heafner saw to pound his fist in Round 18 in 2011, pitched on a night when the plan had apparently been for him to not pitch, and kicked off a run of 5.1 scoreless bullpen innings (three hits, no walks, four strikeouts, 13 of the A’s final 14 hitters retired) that, without which, we’re not talking today about two Chirinos homers or two Rougned Odor homers or a really outstanding night at the plate for Shin-Soo Choo.

Maybe Martinez’s 45 pitches will actually turn out to be a between-starts side, and Texas goes ahead and gives him the ball in St. Louis on Saturday.  Maybe.  

If not, it’s Frisco righthander Connor Sadzeck’s day to pitch, and he’s on the 40-man roster.  Or maybe Ramos gets the assignment after all.  Stay tuned.

I didn’t like seeing Tuesday night’s game necessitate Dyson’s entry.  

But Texas won.

I didn’t like seeing last night’s game necessitate Martinez’s usage.  

But Texas won.

And the pace is now 100 of those, in the regular season.

The Rangers keep finding different ways to win, and different guys to rely on.

Even when Plan B is in play.

Grrr.

Texas 10, Oakland 6 catapulted the Rangers’ record to an AL-best 40-25 (a 99.69-win pace), bettered in baseball only by the Cubs.  

It was a win in Oakland Alameda Coliseum, which feels more like a mausoleum, in terms of both its embarrassing lack of life in the stands and the horror effect it somehow has on the Rangers when they visit.

Martin Perez recovered from a shaky first to go seven innings — not only matching a season-high workload but also doing so while registering his third-lowest pitch count (90) in 14 starts, which in combination is all kinds of awesome. He’s won five straight starts, and as one of the club’s three number three starters, more of that, please.

Elvis Andrus led a 13-hit attack, singling a runner to third ahead of Robinson Chirinos’s tone-setting homer in the second, singling in a runner himself an inning later, and going deep in the eighth.  

Ryan Rua, hitting cleanup for the first time, had three run-scoring trips plus a walk.  In his last 19 games, he’s a .370/.462/.685 hitter in 65 plate appearances, a stretch over which the club is 13-6.  

Andrus’s homer (he’s now hitting .294/.342/.417, which as WFAA’s Or Moyal points out, overlays nicely against Carlos Correa’s .252/.346/.416) extended the Texas lead to 8-4, an only slightly more comfortable cushion in that wretched ballpark, and Jeff Banister gave the bottom of the eighth to Matt Bush, who’d had two days off since a 13-pitch effort in Seattle on Saturday.  

Bush had a clean eighth, another 13-pitch frame, and the Rangers put up another pair of runs in the top of the ninth, pushing the score to 10-4 with three outs to go.

All of that, and I’m a little baseball-cranky this morning.

I’m not at all miffed at Alex Claudio, who is what he is, or at Banister, who didn’t have Keone Kela (hurt) or Shawn Tolleson (27 pitches the night before) or Tom Wilhelmsen (ineffective and back in AAA) or Andrew Faulkner (same) or Tanner Scheppers (hurt) or Luke Jackson (back in AAA because of team workload issues) or Phil Klein (DFA’d) or Cesar Ramos (back in the rotation with Yu Darvish sidelined) or Nick Martinez (back up but possibly being held for Saturday’s start or at least long relief duties) or A.J. Griffin (rehabbing).

The situation called not for Bush to go another inning.  It called for Claudio.

And a 10-4 lead in the ninth ended up putting another 16 pitches of wear on the closer’s arm.

Claudio: Hit batsman on an 0-1 pitch.  Single.  Strikeout.  Double.  Dyson.

Ugh.

Dyson took care of business, getting Billy Burns to ground out to second (a terrific play by both Rougned Odor and Dyson covering the bag) and Jed Lowrie to watch strike three, but while that effort shouldn’t shut Dyson down tonight, what if he’s used tonight?  Will he still be available tomorrow afternoon? 

It’s sorta dumb that Texas finally won a game in Oakland and I’m grumpy.  I know.  

And when circumstances lead to a trickshot artist like Claudio — undeniably a success story in that he’s a former 27th-round pick whose delivery the club overhauled and who got to the big leagues in four years and is building up a pension — being your best bet to take a six-run lead in the ninth to the house, well, that’s the situation you want to feel good about having a guy like him around to absorb, and handle.

I hated seeing Dyson stand up off the bullpen bench and start stretching, but I understood.  

Hated seeing him brought in with what was then a 10-6 margin, but I get it.

Hated seeing Burns work him for seven pitches and Lowrie for nine before he he got both out, but, hey, he did get them out.

Loved the win.  

But not as much as I wanted to.

Still, that’s a burr in the saddle that I can live with.  Texas has barely gotten anything yet out of Yu Darvish or Shin-Soo Choo or Kela or Scheppers or Chirinos or Delino DeShields.  Tolleson and Wilhelmsen haven’t contributed anywhere near expectations, nor have Prince Fielder or Mitch Moreland, though those two are showing good signs.  

I’m grumbling about the fact that my team’s closer pitched after a day of rest, and that’s something I’d much rather worry about than being 5.5 games out or 9.5 games out or 12.0 or 12.5, which is where the Rangers’ division mates sit this morning, 40 percent into the season, while Texas is a tick away from a 100-win pace.

So, yeah, never mind.

Put to the ground.

Minutes after Texas lit Astros reliever Ken Giles up in the bottom of the ninth inning on Monday, in the first of four between the teams this week in Arlington, the 5.76 ERA/.812 OPS-toting righty said to the press, with air of odd and severely misplaced indignation: “We’re going to go out there tomorrow and put them to the ground.”

Put them to the ground.

The syntax confused me.  

Was this like “lit” or “ratchet” or “turnt” or another one of those words or phrases I have to annoy my high school kid by asking her for an explanation?

Was it Papiamentu?

Was it Giles communicating on a level that the rest of us can’t process, you know, like a dog whistle?

The Rangers won the day after that, the “tomorrow” Giles was alluding to, 4-3.  Like Monday, Texas came from behind to do it.

Was Giles prophetic?  Did Houston dropping Game Two satisfy his prediction that his team was going “put the Rangers to the ground”?

The Astros won Game Three, using four relief pitchers that weren’t Giles.  

I still wasn’t sure if he was proven right.

Then, yesterday, it hit me.  

The Astros had taken a lead — like they did in all four games in the series — but Texas cut it to 2-1 in the third when Mitch Moreland followed an Elvis Andrus walk by doubling Andrus in.  Bryan Holaday then singled Moreland to third.  

Up stepped Jurickson Profar, who was getting a late start on his standard multi-hit game after he’d grounded out in the first frame.

Profar took ball one from Colin McHugh.  

Holaday, unsurprisingly, was not on the move.  The double play was in order, and the Astros were playing for two up the middle, prepared to concede the tying run.

Next McHugh pitch: Profar squared up and put a ball on the ground, right at Jose Altuve, who didn’t need to move a foot to the left or a foot to the right.  

But he did leave his feet.

The shot cannon-balled Altuve backwards.  The baseball met Altuve’s glove and then jumped out of it.  Altuve landed on his butt, the ball landed on the ground, Moreland crossed home plate, Holaday advanced to second, Profar safely reached first.

Ian Desmond then struck out swinging for the second time in three innings, which theoretically would have ended the inning had Altuve turned the tailor-made double play, but instead the inning lived and Nomar Mazara singled to left to give Texas a 3-2 lead that would stand up and result in another series win, the Rangers’ 10th straight at home, a franchise record.

And now I know, even if it wasn’t “tomorrow,” what the prescient, forward-thinking visionary Ken Giles meant by “We’re going to go out there and put them to the ground.” 

Altuve falls

A loss and other hurts.

It wasn’t just a loss, an otherwise acceptable outcome since it happens even to the best teams 40 percent of the time.

It’s never a comfortable sight when head trainer Kevin Harmon walks onto the field with the manager, and last night he did so twice, visiting Yu Darvish on the mound and then Adrian Beltre at second base.  

Each was lifted early from Houston 3, Texas 1, and though Darvish insisted after the game that the tightness in his right shoulder was really a minor neck thing and that he should be good to go Monday in Oakland, and though Beltre’s tight left hamstring was going to be rested for this afternoon’s game even if it were 100 percent healthy, the aftermath of the loss to Houston was all about tightness in my own chest and probably yours.  

Still holding my breath.

Wednesday was a day when Josh Hamilton had his season-ending meniscus surgery on his left knee, which revealed unanticipated (and more serious) ACL damage as well.

It was also a day when righthander Michael Matuella faced hitters in a different uniform for the first time as a pro, fanning three Reds and walking none in two scoreless extended spring training innings in Surprise as he works his way back from major college injuries.  He sat 93-96, mixing in a curve and a change.  According to Bill Mitchell (Baseball America), Matuella could be headed now to Low A Hickory.

Texas drafted Matuella one year ago today, using its third-round pick on an injured player who less than a year before that had been in the conversation to go as the first overall pick in the entire 2015 draft.  The club paid him $2 million, well above slot, to take a calculated risk that the kid will regain his power arsenal and pitchability and give the organization yet another high-end pitching prospect to develop.

Tonight the Rangers return to the draft board, picking 30th overall (compensation for the loss of free agent Yovani Gallardo to Baltimore).  They forfeited a pick that would have fallen at number 19, a slot that would have added an 11th player and $2.3788 million to the club’s draft ammunition, when they signed free agent shortstop Ian Desmond to a one-year deal with the intention of moving the 30-year-old from the dirt to the grass. 

Senior director of amateur scouting Kip Fagg probably wishes he had pick 19 back, because tonight is his domain (and his Christmas tree), but as an organization you can bet the consensus feeling is that the 19th pick for Ian Desmond was a spectacular tradeoff.

The Rangers can always allocate that $2.4 million toward their July 2 crop out of Latin America a little under a month from now.

Or to the trade deadline, a month after that.

Desmond (.309/.352/.485) drove in the Rangers’ lone run last night and erased another with a missile home from center field.  He’s been an extraordinary addition to this club, a Beltre/Red Sox-like example of a player making the most of a pillow contract.

Texas may end up tonight getting the player at number 30 overall that it wanted at 19.  When the club took righthander Luis Ortiz at number 30 overall the year before Matuella arrived, for instance, reports are that Ortiz was a top 5 player on its board.  

Yes, not having 19 plus 30 means one less high-end talent to add to the organization.

But it also means Desmond is here.  And if he’s gone next year — a likelihood given his situation and the weakness of the overall free agent class but certainly not a slam dunk — Texas will get another supplemental first-rounder back.  It won’t be 19th overall, but the dropoff by a dozen or so picks will have been more than worth it if Desmond continues to play at a level anywhere close to the one he’s playing at now, and helps this team get back to the playoffs.

And if that $2.4 million no longer usable on the Rangers’ draft class is earmarked for a big league pitching piece to assist in that push for 162+?

Yes, please.

Yesterday was not about another day of Desmond’s big production on the field, unfortunately, as Texas lost the game and had too many injury-related headlines.

But, hopefully, Darvish is fine and Beltre will only be down briefly and Hamilton will play baseball again and Matuella is back on a road without setbacks.

I won’t be on the edge of my seat for pick 19 tonight, but that’s cool.  Texas will still make an impact tonight and the next two days in the draft, and chances are good Desmond will make an impact over these next three days as well.  

I just hope there’s no more injury-related news in that same timeframe.  At least no bad news.

Cover up.

A whole lot has changed since we put this book cover together nearly four years ago.

2013 front cover bound edition

     2013 back cover bound edition

     

While some things are finally coming together.

History in the making.

The Rangers took three of four from the White Sox, two of three from the Mariners, and two of three from the Angels, before hitting the road.  

On their return home two weeks later, they took two of three each from Red Sox and Orioles, and left town again.

When they came back, they swept the Yankees in three, took three of four from the Twins, and beat the Indians twice in three tries.

After another road trip, Texas returned to Arlington and won three of four games against the A’s.

There was no red in the uniform, other than the stitching that minimally outlined the numbers and letters on the home whites and the cap.  

There was not a stadium at 1000 Ballpark Way.  At least not a functional one, yet.

Nolan Ryan recorded one of those wins over Chicago, and one of those wins over the Angels, who were called “California,” and took the club’s one loss against the Twins, in his return from a three-week stay on the disabled list, a few weeks before he would retire.

The above stretch of home games lasted from August 2 through September 20 of 1993.

It was the last time the Rangers won nine straight series at home, until last night’s pounding of the Mariners, setting up a chance to today to sweep the club’s closest AL West competitor, which came into this set of three tied with Texas atop the division.  

It also turns out, remarkably, that this is the first road series Seattle has lost all season.

Texas is now 33-22, which the easy math says is a .600 winning clip.  

That paces out to 97 victories, which would set a franchise record.

To set a club mark for consecutive series wins at home, breaking the one that they’ve now matched in this series, the Rangers will need to win at least three of four when Houston visits tomorrow through Thursday.  

Texas will miss Lance McCullers.  Houston will miss Derek Holland.  

Those two pitch this afternoon, seeking to help their teams sweep a division opponent.

Texas made some history last night, dating back to a time when Nolan Ryan was its emblematic player.

Nolan Ryan is almost 70.

There’s a budding sense that the Rangers aren’t finished this year making franchise history.  

Perhaps the ultimate type.

Staying power.

The Texas Rangers have the best record in the American League.

And the best position player in baseball without a starting job.

Only one of those is potentially hyperbole, and I’m not so sure it is.

When Dayn Perry (CBS Sports) tweets: “I’m not saying the Rangers are the Best Organization in Baseball, but they probably deserve a mention when we have that conversation,” it doesn’t really matter where it falls on the hyperbolic scale.  That it’s defensible is the point.

Very little from Prince Fielder and very little from Mitch Moreland at two of any team’s key slug positions.  

Disappointing production from several key bullpen pieces.  

A regression from the sophomore leadoff-hitting center fielder.  

Injuries to the starting catcher and the starting right fielder.  

Nothing from the player who was supposed to be the primary left fielder.  

A week-long suspension of one of the team’s most dynamic players.  

An ace missing for all but the last week . . . . 

And the Texas Rangers have the best record in the American League.

As well as a pace, exactly one-third through the season, in spite of all those things, to win 96 games, which would match a franchise best.

Rougned Odor returns from timeout tonight.  Texas has had to play with 24 in his absence — going 5-2 against two teams who would be in the playoffs if the season ended today and a third that’s the first club short of a post-season berth — and so the Rangers won’t have to ship anyone out to make room.

The bigger question is how the lineup will be affected.

Another multi-hit game for Jurickson Profar last night (that’s four in seven games, all of which he’s hit safely in), including a majestic home run that landed in a spot that’s generally Fielder territory, a monster defensive play and a great baserunning read, and simply more stacked evidence that he’s a winning piece on a winning team.

After the game, which featured a fifth-inning moment that felt very telling — Fielder following a Nomar Mazara double and intentional Adrian Beltre walk (!!) by popping up to shallow left with a green 3-0 light (designed, surely, to get Fielder going) against a flagging Taijuan Walker — the beats dropped heavy hints that Profar will not only remain on the club as Odor returns (rather than getting shipped out for a reliever, for instance), but may also retain a spot in the lineup, for now, at Fielder’s expense.

According to Stefan Stevenson (Fort Worth Star-Telegram), “Fielder may get ‘unplugged,’ as [Jeff] Banister calls it, for [a] couple days VERY soon.”  Banister likely doesn’t say to reporters after the game, “What he’s done for us in the absence of Odor has really been exceptional — he’s making a really strong argument for himself,” unless he was already swayed by the argument, or close to it.  

Banister doesn’t say things accidentally, or recklessly.

There was a time in mid-April when Texas unplugged a .109/.180/.109-hitting Ian Desmond (through 50 plate appearances).  He played on April 15th.  He sat on the 16th.  The club was rained out on the 17th, and had an off-day on the 18th.

Desmond returned on the 19th, after three days down.  Since then, he’s a .358/.399/.588 hitter (178 plate appearances).  

Those are insane numbers.

Texas doesn’t need Fielder to put up a .987 OPS.  

But .787 would be nice.  

.545 just isn’t acceptable, whether Fielder is hitting 3rd, 5th, or 9th.

It’s clearly in Fielder’s head now — and that has to be tougher on a DH than a two-way player, since there aren’t opportunities to let go of the last at-bat and refocus on the defensive job — and unplugging the guy for a few days seems to be a great idea.

How long would it last?  Don’t know.  

Would Profar DH in Fielder’s absence?

Probably, though you could also give an infielder half a day off for a given game by DH’ing that player, with Profar holding his spot down defensively. 

Three nights ago, neither Sam Dyson nor Jake Diekman nor Matt Bush pitched in the Rangers’ 5-4, extra-inning loss in Cleveland.

Two nights ago, the club didn’t play.

Last night, Diekman threw nine pitches and Dyson threw 12 pitches and Bush wasn’t needed.

Without that three-day run, maybe Profar goes to AAA today.  Instead, the bullpen is relatively rested and having Profar around, regardless of his role, makes more sense for now than an extra reliever, the way he is helping this team in every phase. 

No telling how long a Fielder reboot would last — assuming it happens, and it sure looks like that’s where this is headed — or how long Profar would stick, given that Shin-Soo Choo is nearing his own return.

But it gives me peace that the people in charge of making those decisions, both upstairs and in the dugout, are forward-thinking and creative and smart and singularly focused on winning, and that whatever you and I might think needs to be done to make the AL’s best team even stronger, the “best organization in baseball” in some folks’ eyes has got this.

Getcha popcorn ready.

MVP.

The initial All-Star Game balloting numbers were released a couple days ago, with the top five American League vote-getters revealed at each of the nine offensive positions (actually, 15 outfielders without specific positions), for a total of 45 players among the 15 AL clubs.

There were zero Rangers.

The AL West-leading Rangers, that is, whose 31-22 record is a half-game short of the league’s best.  

Maybe that’s not a shocking thing, given that the two most likely (or at least deserving) All-Star participants from Texas are probably a player who didn’t have a team until half a month after spring training started and another who began the season in AAA and, if not for unforeseen circumstances, might still be in a Round Rock jersey rather than back-to-back recipient of AL Rookie of the Month honors.  

But Ian Desmond and Nomar Mazara are both outfielders, and neither is among the top 15 in the vote.

Baltimore Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard is.

Desmond and Mazara aren’t.

Now, I’ve never cared much about the All-Star vote and don’t now.  

I bring this up to make a different point.

The Most Valuable Part of the 2016 Texas Rangers, a third of the way in, is this team’s depth.  The vertical length of the roster (and beyond) that Jon Daniels and his crew assembled going into the season has been indispensable.

Shin-Soo Choo, the club’s best player as it made its second-half run to 162+ last summer, goes down within this season’s first week.

Mazara comes up and is known as the youngest player in baseball for about 10 minutes, after which his bullet points start to change entirely.

Delino DeShields regresses.  Desmond — signed despite zero outfield experience when it didn’t look like Josh Hamilton was going to be able to give the team much — takes over in center, and has been one of baseball’s best players for the last month and a half.  Ryan Rua (.811 OPS) settles in as the primary left fielder.

Rougned Odor gets suspended for a week.  Jurickson Profar steps in and doesn’t just keep the club from skipping a beat.  He adds a new dimension, and a really interesting conversation.

Robinson Chirinos breaks an arm in the season’s fifth game and Chris Gimenez can’t shake a leg infection coming out of camp. 

No sweat: Relatively anonymous Rangers catchers Bryan Holaday, Bobby Wilson, and Brett Nicholas, none of whom is on the 40-man roster until the day before the club breaks camp in Surprise, combine for a MLB-high .287 batting average at the position, and a shared AL lead with 30 RBI, playing solid defense.  

Keone Kela gets hurt, and Shawn Tolleson and Tom Wilhelmsen struggle.  

Career minor leaguer Tony Barnette shows up from Japan and Matt Bush shows up from Golden Corral.  

Remember the name Jose Leclerc — it might take only short-term memory — and at some point lefthander Michael Roth, whose non-roster deal didn’t even include an invite to big league camp, could help.

And then there’s Sam Dyson.  

Since taking over for Tolleson in the ninth: nine strikeouts and zero walks in 6.2 innings.  

Twelve ground balls and two fly balls.  

Three hits and four saves. 

Yu Darvish can’t go out of the gate, but Texas goes 7-2 in starts made by non-roster replacements A.J. Griffin and Cesar Ramos, who post a collective 2.88 ERA as starters in Darvish’s absence.

Darvish joins a rotation that has the American League’s best starters’ ERA (3.39), the Rangers’ best such mark through 53 games in 40 years.

The Rangers’ ace goes tonight against a Mariners club that staged an incredible comeback win in San Diego last night that resulted in a tie atop the division and a flight putting them in Texas just before the sun came up.

Three with Seattle, and the Rangers have a shot at a ninth straight series win at home (a Globe Life Park record), and an opportunity (3.0, 1.0, -1.0, or -3.0) to reclaim sole possession of the division lead.

It’s a remarkable thing, given that Texas has had to rely meaningfully on depth in the rotation and in the bullpen and at catcher and at second base and at all three outfield spots already.

Meanwhile, only Boston has a better AL win-loss mark, by half a game.  

The Rangers haven’t looked to depth at first base or DH in spite of Prince Fielder’s and Mitch Moreland’s extended labors.  But they could.  Joey Gallo (a triple, a single, and a walk last night, now up to .294/.438/.676 in 130 AAA plate appearances) awaits, productively.

The Profar question persists, as Odor is set to return to action after tonight’s game.  Could he remain on the roster, at least until Choo and Drew Stubbs return?  Texas presumably won’t ask him to play the outfield (his arm hasn’t been conditioned for it), but could Texas roll with both Profar and Hanser Alberto on the bench for now?

Depends largely on the blueprint for getting Profar in the lineup.  It’s not reasonable to expect Odor, Adrian Beltre, and Elvis Andrus to sit, even once a week each.

As Ben Rogers and I talked about yesterday while recording the latest Spitballin’ podcast episode, comparing Profar to Zobrist is more convenient than it is fair.  In all those Rays and A’s years when Zobrist was earning MVP votes while playing all over the field, he was shuttling between positions manned otherwise by Eric Sogard, Mark Canha, and Sam Fuld, or Logan Forsythe and Sean Rodriguez and Elliot Johnson and Matt Joyce and Ryan Roberts and Reid Brignac and Akinori Iwakuma and Gabe Gross and Jason Bartlett.

That’s not the same as Odor and Beltre and Andrus and Fielder.

Profar needs to play.  

He’s got nothing left to prove (well, aside perhaps from his arm strength from the left side of the infield).  He has hits in all six games he’s played for Texas, with multiple hits in half of them, and has scored in the last five of those six games out of the leadoff spot.  He’s made all the plays at second base, and he’s been big running the bases.

He sports a .929 OPS.

Jurickson Profar is a winning baseball player.  

But he needs to play, whether that’s in Arlington or, for now, in Round Rock.

Daniels told the Ben and Skin Show yesterday that the inner circle is “still talking about ways” to keep the 23-year-old on the club once Odor returns.   

Jeff Banister told MLB Network Radio that Profar “sure makes our club good,” and said to the local beats: “[Profar has] shown great energy [as] a guy who loves to play the game, and resilience after being away so long.  I’m assuming what I’m seeing is what everybody else saw in the past.”  

Yes.

Someone in the middle infield has to move.

Not this weekend — that’s no longer a slam dunk, because of the dimension Profar has brought in his week up here — but while he has an option remaining in 2017, he clearly won’t need it.  The Rangers are going to need to capitalize on his value no later than this winter, unless they move Andrus or Odor to make room for him here.  

While procedurally he can, the dynamic Profar is not going back to AAA next April.  He’s just not.

Someone’s gonna move.

That’s a conversation for another time.  A conversation that will have added depth as the summer unfolds.

But not the same kind of depth that, two months in, has been this club’s MVP, pretty much carrying this team in the absence of any one or two players doing so themselves, a point driven home by something as pedestrian as the early returns on the All-Star vote.

Imagining things.

It’s rained a ton this holiday weekend, wiping out lots of youth baseball and other outdoor plans but holding off long enough for Texas to get in three against Pittsburgh and win the majority of them.

Helped along by Yu Darvish and Jurickson Profar, teammates for the first time in two and a half years.

It wasn’t supposed to be that way.

One finished 2012 in the top 10 in both Rookie of the Year and Cy Young voting, the other as baseball’s best prospect.

They occupied the Rangers’ starting nine together 13 times in 2013.

And three times in May.  

May 2016.

Twice in Round Rock.

And then, here, on Saturday night.

It was a night on which Darvish and Profar reminded us of visions every one of us had four years ago, and three.

The big righthander, returning from an elbow injury that wiped out a year and two thirds, won his fourth season debut out of four.  The command was there and the velocity was shockingly there, and the strikeout-to-walk was better for Darvish than it often is.  It was a dazzling reminder of what we’ve missed and, just as much, a taste of the kind of boost his return should give this already strong club. 

The 23-year-old infielder singled in the first (on an 0-2 count) from the leadoff spot, and scored.  He grounded out his next two times up (seeing eight pitches), and then tripled and scored in the seventh.  He saw 11 strikes in 12 pitches — watching four, fouling off three, and putting four in play — never swinging and missing (or looking at strike three).  He made all the plays at second base.

The 2014 season, a terrible one for the team, started badly for Profar and ended badly for Darvish.  

Neither of them was able to contribute to the Rangers’ fantastic 2015 season.  What if they had?

As for 2016, for different reasons, their arrivals were delayed until late May.

It’s probably going to be short lived for Profar.

But so far, he’s 5 for 13 (.385/.385/538) with more multi-hit games (two) than strikeouts (one), and he’s found a way to score three times in three games.  

Leadoff hitters do that.  

I’ve been saying for a couple months that he’s the guy in the system I’d most like to see atop this lineup long term — the tricky part is finding the place he fits defensively, less so because of his abilities than because of who is already in place.  

Profar has started nine big league games in the leadoff spot.  He’s hit safely in all nine, and is a .310/.341/.476 hitter in that role, markedly better than in any other spot in the lineup (second, sixth, seventh, eighth, or ninth).  

If nothing else, Jurickson Profar is helping his own stock, and that’s a very good thing, no matter where this is headed.

Profar is a winning player.

That’s not to say Rougned Odor and Elvis Andrus are not.  They are.

But so is Profar.

Gallo returned to Round Rock as Darvish arrived, and made his third pro start at first base on Sunday.  (The first was last August.  The second was his final day with the Express before being recalled a week ago to temporarily fortify the big league bench.)

He drew two walks in yesterday’s game, once leading off an inning and another time with the bases loaded, and in each case that’s a really promising thing for a guy with Gallo’s profile, another demonstration of a huge step forward in approach and a tempering of what had to be an urge to be big in a situation that didn’t necessarily call for it.  He singled in his third chance, before fanning and flying out.

Think back to the hitter you saw last summer, when he struck out 57 times in 123 big league plate appearances and drew a dozen unintentional walks — with 90 more whiffs against 25 unintentional walks in the 128 AAA trips that followed his promotion to Texas.

He’s walked 24 times (22 times unintentionally) and gone down on strikes 25 times in 111 AAA plate appearances this spring. 

Gallo has nearly cut his strikeout rate in half.  

And nearly doubled his walk rate.

While playing first base, on a day that the struggling Prince Fielder and Mitch Moreland each homered.  (Off a lefty.  In the same game.  In the same inning.)

Unrelated.

Gallo will probably continue to see AAA time at third base (as he’s the player Texas would turn to if Adrian Beltre needed to be deactivated) and maybe some on one outfield corner or the other as well.  He’s DH’ing today.  

But he’s going to play a good amount of first base as well, and with Moreland a free agent at season’s end, there’s added meaning to Gallo’s defensive assignments at this point, if not for 2016 then certainly beyond — especially with Beltre now locked in for another couple years.

There hasn’t yet been a day when Darvish and Profar and Gallo were all here.

Or anywhere, as Gallo was on the DL when Darvish made his two AAA rehab appearances early this month.

In fact, Gallo has suited up just once in 2016 in Texas with either one, when Profar made his season debut on Friday and Gallo remained on the bench in a 9-1 loss to the Pirates.

There’s a chance they’ll never play together.  Profar could be back in AAA with Gallo once Odor is reactivated, and Profar (or even Gallo) could be traded in July.

If not, they’ll all be here in September, if not sooner — and I wouldn’t rule out the possibility, all things considered, that they’re all on a 2016 post-season roster together, when Profar in particular (with the minor league season over) could give Texas weapons on the bench that Hanser Alberto can’t.

Next year?  Too soon to guess.  Far too soon.

But not too soon to imagine it, and — finally — the vision isn’t entirely imaginary.

One-one punch.

Cole and Yu, back to back, against a National League team at home, full house energy and intensity.

Whaddaya say we do this again in five months?

Cole and Yu

Let’s win the damn series.

This one, for now.

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