Better late than never: Seager and Jung make spring debuts

March 23rd, 2024

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Better late than never, it seems, for the Rangers this spring.

In the Rangers 1-1 tie with the Royals in the Cactus League finale on Saturday, played shortstop and played third base in their spring debuts.

Seager underwent surgery to repair a sports hernia in January, and has been slowly rehabbing since, and Jung experienced discomfort while taking ground balls before the full squad reported to camp, with an MRI revealing a low-grade calf strain.

The Rangers have been “cautiously optimistic” for about two weeks that both All-Star infielders would be ready for Opening Day, and this is just the next step toward that.

“This is good news,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “The timing is good as we approach Opening Day.”

“We’ll just get them a couple of at-bats hopefully and, you know, get some innings under their belt,” Bochy said. “You can take all the ground balls and all the live hitting you want, but it's a little bit different to be in a game, so this is a good timing to get them in the game. This gives us a chance to stretch them out.”

The two infielders played three innings each, with Seager going 2-for-2 with two singles and Jung going 1-for-2 with a single.

“I feel good,” Seager said. “I'm not in any pain, no limitations. Just trying to build up. It was my first time playing defense, so I’ll see how I respond tomorrow and kind of go from there.”

The plan is for both to play the two exhibition games in Arlington against the Red Sox prior to Opening Day on March 25-26.

“Now, they’re day to day, with that said,” Bochy said. “We may have to adjust and DH one of them. We do have a day game after a night game, so obviously there will be some kind of adjustment or maybe they won’t play the day night.”

It’s been a slow ramp-up for both throughout the spring, though Seager and Jung have been facing live pitching and taking ground balls for the majority of the last week and a half of camp. Jung noted that he hit a triple against Royals Minor Leaguers on the back fields earlier this week.

“Yeah, I didn’t pull up,” he said.

Jung hit .266/.315/.467 with 23 homers in his first full big league season in 2023, but again landed on the injured list for six weeks with a fractured left thumb. Though he made the All-Star team as a rookie, he believes he can be even better in ‘24.

“I'm very confident in Thursday [Opening Day],” Jung said after Saturday’s game. “Today was just a step to get out on the dirt before we take off. It was awesome. It was good to get in an A game today.”

Seager, who finished as the runner-up in AL MVP Award voting last season, has been slightly behind Jung in his progressions, but that doesn’t seem to matter for a guy like him.

The reigning World Series MVP went on the injured list twice in 2023, sidelined by a left hamstring strain and a right thumb sprain. He only played in three games with Double-A Frisco on a rehab assignment after the hamstring strain, and did not even require one after the thumb sprain.

Though Bochy noted that returning after a full offseason of no work and returning midseason is different, anything seems to be possible with Seager.

“We have this history with Corey,” Bochy said. “Go back to the first time when he hurt his hamstring, he was out five or six weeks. We thought we would have to rehab him and give him a few games. He took a few swings off live pitching and hit one out.

“He said ‘I'm ready.’ He convinced us that he was good to go and he played great. Then the next time he hurt himself, it was the same thing. He was pretty sore, I think, at times down the stretch [in the regular season]. But he wouldn't take a day to die. The mental toughness that he has is pretty impressive.”