ARLINGTON — The Texas Rangers have All-Star slugger Joey Gallo back and a bolstered starting rotation for their new home stadium.
Texas was 10 games over .500 midway through manager Chris Woodward's first season, but faded in the second half without their injured All-Star slugger and with mostly inconsistent pitching aside from two veteran workhorse starters.
Gallo is back healthy, from wrist surgery last year and after testing positive for coronavirus. The outfielder missed the first week of summer camp even though he never experienced any symptoms of COVID-19.
After Lance Lynn and All-Star lefty Mike Minor both threw 208 1-3 innings with at least 200 strikeouts last season, Texas filled the rest of the rotation with the additions of two-time AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber through a trade, and veterans Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles in free agency.
There will be only 60 games in the pandemic-delayed season. The unprecedented season sprint opens July 24, when the Rangers finally get to play a game in their new $1.2 billion stadium with a retractable roof.
"It's like going into August tied for the best record in baseball, tied for a playoff spot," Woodward said. "And our players understand that."
The Rangers slipped to finish 78-84 last season, still an 11-win improvement over 2018.
Gallo, who hit 22 homers in 70 games before the surgery on his right wrist, worked out at the new stadium for several weeks before two positive tests for the virus sandwiched a negative result during intake testing. He wondered if he actually ever had coronavirus since he tested negative multiple times on his own before being cleared.
Another abnormality this season will be playing games in an empty new stadium.
"It's definitely gonna be different when there's no fans in the stands, having to kind of keep that adrenaline that you usually get from fans, and from the environment," Gallo said. "That'll be interesting for sure."
Lefty reliever Brett Martin was already at higher risk as a Type 1 diabetic when he tested positive for coronavirus before camp. He had mild symptoms (congestion and fatigue) and could miss the start of this season. He pitched in 51 games as a rookie last year.
Gibson and Lyles both set career highs for wins while pitching for playoff teams last season. Kluber hasn't made a big league start since May 1, 2019, when a comeback liner broke his right forearm. He later suffered an oblique injury while rehabbing.
"It's been far too long," Kluber said. "I'm ready to go. I'm not having to try to have to play catch-up or anything like that."
Kluber won 20 games for Cleveland in 2018, capping a five-year stretch with at least 203 innings and 222 strikeouts each season.
Texas traded center fielder Delino DeShields Jr. to the Indians in December for Kluber, only days after Nomar Mazara was dealt to the Chicago White Sox.
ROOKIES TO WATCH
Nick Solak was acquired from Tampa Bay in a midseason trade and made his MLB debut over the final six weeks of the season. He hit .293 in his 33 games while playing second and third base, but can also play first or in the outfield. Left-handers Joe Palumbo and Kolby Allard, who both got multiple starts last season, provide depth in the rotation and could also be relievers.
Danny Santana went to spring training last year as a non-roster player, and became the team MVP in a utility role. He is now set to be the primary center fielder with DeShields gone and Gallo moving to right field.
"I am very pleased with this year because I know I don't have to focus on a lot of different positions," said Santana, who had at least five starts at every infield and outfield position last season.
Left fielder Willie Calhoun suffered a broken jaw when he was hit in the face by a fastball during a spring training game March 8. The MLB shutdown allowed him time to heal, though he still has some numbness in his cheek to the middle of his chin.
"The baseball process, it was a little bit of a slow start because I didn't know how I was going to feel stepping back into the box at first," said Calhoun, who seemed comfortable facing pitchers in camp.
Six different players have started at third base since Adrian Beltre retired after the 2018 season. The Rangers pursued top free agent Anthony Rendon before he chose the AL West rival Los Angeles Angels, then signed former two-time All-Star Todd Frazier to a deal that includes a 2021 club option.