The usual suspects led the way on offense for the Rangers on Wednesday night at Angel Stadium, with Mitch Garver homering in his third straight game and Kole Calhoun hitting his team-leading seventh long ball of the month. But it was Sam Huff, making his first career start at first base as a Major Leaguer, whose presence in the lineup had the potential to truly shake things up for Texas.
Huff’s offensive contributions were limited to an infield single in the Rangers’ 7-2 win over the Angels, and he wasn’t responsible for any flashy plays with his glove. But he did exactly what his team needed him to do: provide dependable defense at a position that’s not his usual spot. And that’s something that could loom large, particularly given the recent struggles of primary first baseman Nathaniel Lowe.
“It’s a huge responsibility to be over there,” manager Chris Woodward said of Huff playing first prior to the game. “You’ve got a lot of picked balls, you gotta be in the right place. It’s not as easy as it may seem to just throw the big, burly guy over at first base.”
Sure enough, though, Huff made things look easy on Wednesday, handling eight of the nine defensive opportunities he got capably and still managing to get the out on a ball he didn’t field cleanly in the ninth inning. That shouldn’t come as a huge surprise; although he’s primarily a catcher, Huff’s gotten his fair share of experience at first base, with 59 Minor League appearances there from 2018-21.
And though Wednesday wasn’t a loud offensive night for Huff, he’s certainly been making his case to crack the Rangers’ lineup with more regularity. In the midst of his second big league stint this year, Huff is now batting .407 (11-for-27) with three RBIs through eight games; in 19 games with Triple-A Round Rock, he was slashing .260/.349/.575 with seven homers and 15 RBIs.
“I want to see Sam hit,” said Woodward. “Sam’s had some good at-bats against some good pitching.”
On the other side is Lowe, who through 38 games has a slash line of .245/.300/.317 with an OPS+ of 82. Woodward theorized that his struggles on offense might be compromising Lowe’s defense as well. He has three errors already this season, and his -3 outs above average placed him No. 38 out of 41 qualified MLB first basemen this year.
“Sometimes, when the bat isn’t going the way you’d like, everything suffers, ‘cause that’s the game, unfortunately,” Woodward said of Lowe on Tuesday. “I’ve seen some really good defenders struggle defensively because they didn’t hit. So it’s hard not for it to affect all parts of your game. You just get a little clouded in everything else you do.”
Indeed, filling in for Lowe at first seems like the most natural fit for Huff right now, given how well Jonah Heim’s been playing since transitioning into his role as Texas’ primary catcher. This remains true even with Garver currently limited to designated hitter duties, as he remains unable to throw since returning from a right forearm flexor muscle strain injury.
Huff got the opportunity on Wednesday night with a lefty on the mound in Angels starter Reid Detmers. And with the Rangers set to face two more lefties in their upcoming four-game series in Oakland, it could present a natural chance for Huff to get back in there, perhaps once again at first base.
“I want to put a lot of pressure on being able to put him in there,” said Woodward. “That’s the ideal scenario.”