Anyone who has ever followed spring-training baseball has heard a pitcher or two or 12 get knocked around a Cactus League or Grapefruit League ballpark and simply cast it aside as no big deal.
He was “working stuff” or “just getting his work in.” He might have thrown four straight changeups to the same hitter, something he would never do once games that matter start.
Against that backdrop, when pitchers aren’t as dialed in as they will be for the regular season, Joey Gallo has hit a home run in each of the first three spring games he has played for the Texas Rangers.
His OPS is 3.048.
Well, he wasn’t going to homer Friday as it was an off day for the Rangers. They resume play at 2 p.m. Saturday against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Gallo might not homer then or even the rest of the spring. Even he has said that the homers don’t really matter.
Yet, the process that produced the shots is important and is something he hopes to carry into the 2021 season.
“Early spring you’re not really thinking about more than I’m just seeing the ball, I want to get some good swings off and feel where I’m at,” Gallo said. “So far, for me, it’s been pretty good.”
The No. 1 thing Gallo said he wanted to fix from last year was his launch angle, which was a league-high 26.8. Behind him, distantly, were MVP candidates Jose Ramirez (23.2) and Mike Trout (23.1).
They collected more hits and homers. Gallo collected more pop-ups.
The goal for Gallo is to hit more line drives. As strong as he is, and with as much exit velocity as he generates, his line drives are going to leave the ballpark.
The two-run homer he in his first spring at-bat Sunday wasn’t a moon shot. The solo shot he hit two days later was. The three-run bomb Thursday, which cleared the outfield berm at Surprise Stadium, was somewhere in between.
“He hammered that ball,” manager Chris Woodward said.
Gallo also wants to improve the quality of his at-bats this season, and in order to do that he needs to get off his A swing.
“I want to take my best swing possible.” he said.
Inside Gallo’s homers
Often in spring training, Woodward said, hitters will ambush a first-pitch fastball for a home run, and there’s nothing wrong with doing that. Gallo, though, is making pitchers work.
He likes to see as many pitches as he can during early spring at-bats, which helps with identifying what’s coming. His third spring homer came on a 3-2 pitch and was his second of the spring with two strikes.
It also came in a game off a left-hander, though Gallo has never discriminated against lefties. He has 28 homers against them since 2018, which is tied for the most by a left-handed hitter in the majors.
Gallo is tied with fellow Las Vegas product Bryce Harper.
The work the Gallo did in the offseason — like becoming more upright in his stance — and continues to do in the cages and during batting practice is producing results.
“The game is the test,” he said.
Can Gallo keep it going?
Outside of the 2019 season, when he was an American League All-Star before breaking his right hamate bone early in the second half, Gallo hasn’t been a very good hitter.
He has hit no shortage of home runs, with back-to-back seasons of at least 40 in 2017 and 2018, but he batted .181 with 10 homers in a funky 2020 season in which his mind got lost in the brevity of the season.
But Gallo said he is in his happy place, along with the rest of the team. He knows that everyone is happy in spring training, so he’s curious about how he will handle some adversity.
“It’s easy to be positive when the results are positive all the time,” he said. “I’m excited to see how I handle when I go 0-for-my-next-three-games. You keep working.”
That’s going to happen. Even the best hitters endure slumps. When they come on a lousy team, as the Rangers are expected to be, the mental grind becomes even more of a factor.
But Gallo is on top of things right now.
“I’m really proud of him,” Woodward said. “Everything he said that we talked about all offseason and into spring training this year, he’s done everything he said he was going to do. The true test comes when you struggle or the team struggles. I said that’s going to be the true test of your mentality.”
While it’s early in spring training, the approach behind Gallo’s three homers is encouraging for the long haul.
“He’s had good at-bats every time,” Woodward said. “That leads me more to believe that it’s more real than not. ... When he’s working counts and battling back ... those are the kind of at-bats that lead you to believe it’s more reality than a spring-training run.”