Joey Gallo’s bat sparks late rally, but Dane Dunning’s slow start dooms Texas Rangers

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The Texas Rangers are in Houston for a four-game series against the Astros.

Their president of baseball operations, though, has been in Oxford, Miss.

That’s where Ole Miss is, and where Vanderbilt is playing in a key Southeast Conference series. Jon Daniels isn’t there as a huge college-baseball fan but as the head of a baseball team that holds the second pick in this year’s draft.

Vanderbilt has two of the top prospects, right-handers Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter. Daniels put his eyeballs on them for the first time.

He has also seen Dallas Jesuit shortstop Jordan Lawlar, whose season ended Saturday in the Class 6A bi-district round of the playoffs.

Depending on which draft rumors you read, all three could be available when the Rangers head to the podium July 11.

At this rate, they will have positioned themselves for another high draft pick in the 2022 draft.

Here’s some Rangers Reaction from a 6-5 loss on Saturday, their fifth loss in a row.

Gallo awakens

Chris Woodward didn’t like the report Friday from the medical staff on Joey Gallo’s left hamstring, so the manager gave the right fielder the day off for treatment.

Gallo also took it as a mental break, and a chance for him to work through what was ailing his swing.

For one game, at least, he appears to have struck on something.

Gallo entered in an 0-for-15 skid but went 3 for 4, including a three-run homer in the eighth inning that moved the Rangers within striking distance in an inning they entered trailing 6-1.

“It’s a good sign for us,” Woodward said. “We need Joey to be good for our offense to be as good as we want it to be.”

It wasn’t that Gallo needed to make a mechanical tweak but needed to talk through what was happening to him at the plate. Teams have started throwing him some pitches to hit, thanks to protection he’s getting from Nate Lowe and Adolis Garcia.

That’s a stark change from earlier in the season, when teams could pitch around him without much fear of what the hitters behind him would do.

So, Gallo is being more aggressive and trying to drive the ball early in counts, as he was in spring training. The home run came on an 0-2 pitch, and Gallo said he is attempting to shorten his swing with two strikes.

“It was a strange period for me,” Gallo said. “I think I was still in a tentative mode, and they started getting to me quick. Now I’ve got to be a little more aggressive. They’re going to start throwing me more strikes. That’s just how the game goes. You have to keep molding with it.”

Dunning bounce back

Dane Dunning allowed four first-inning runs last month in a home start against the Los Angeles Angels, then nothing else his final four innings.

Afterward, Woodward wanted to see Dunning adjust sooner, as the trouble was unfolding, before it was too late.

The same scenario played out Saturday against the Astros, who scored four first-inning runs but didn’t get any more over the next three.

The adjustment Dunning needs to make is getting a better feel at the start of games. His first-inning ERA is above 10, and pitchers are often most susceptible in the first inning.

Maybe it’s him getting used to the mound. Maybe it’s getting used to his surroundings if he’s in a ballpark where he hasn’t pitched much. He needs to change something.

“Pretty much every starting pitcher, they’re most vulnerable in the first inning,” Woodward said. “We talk about that as an offense. He just didn’t execute very well in the beginning.”

The Rangers pulled the plug on Dunning after four innings as they continue to watch his pitch count in his first full season after Tommy John surgery. He was also coming off a start in which he struck out 10 Seattle Mariners in six innings and threw a season-high 89 pitches.

Woodward admitted Friday that he isn’t sure how the Rangers are going to keep Dunning’s innings down. They’re already running a tandem with Dunning and Kolby Allard. Dunning could go on the injured list with “shoulder fatigue” or some other “injury,” as the Rangers did with Yu Darvish in his rookie season.

But, as things stand now, Dunning has been one of their best starters after Kyle Gibson.

The big picture, though, continues to dictate that the Rangers play it safe with a pitcher they believe will be in their rotation for many seasons to come.

Rotation update

The Rangers optioned Wes Benjamin to Triple A Round Rock, so he won’t be starting Wednesday against the New York Yankees. It appears as if Hyeon-Jong Yang will be.

Yang tossed four innings of long relief Friday, allowing three runs. He threw 72 pitches, so he should be able to approach 90 if he is given his second MLB start.

A lefty isn’t necessarily a great option against the Yankees, but the Rangers don’t have many options at this point. Call-ups this season must come from Triple A until further notice because of COVID-19 protocols, and the Rangers don’t have any starters on the 40-man roster at Round Rock.

They have three at Double A Frisco, where Tyler Phillips is off to a strong start.

Yang, or whoever makes the start, will be filling in for Kohei Arihara. He’s out with a bruised middle finger, but is going to throw a bullpen session Sunday and might not be far away from returning.

He would actually be eligible for reinstatement Wednesday, though Woodward didn’t give an indication that Arihara is a candidate for the start.

Rangers’ star of the game

Here are the candidates for the Rangers’ star of the game. Seems pretty obvious.

Joey Gallo: He entered in an 0-for-15 slump but collected singles in the first two at-bats and connected for a three-run homer in the eighth. The 3-for-4 game lifted his average to .222, and the home run was his seventh.

Nick Solak: The second baseman reached four times, including in the first inning with a triple. He scored as the next hitter, Nate Lowe, followed with a sacrifice fly. Solak added a single and two walks.

Kolby Allard: The left-hander walked three and allowed two hits in 1 2/3 innings, but he kept the game at 4-1 after Dane Dunning allowed four runs (all in the first) in four innings.

Who was the Rangers' star of the game Saturday at Houston?

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