GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The celebration following his walk-off homer Saturday was suitably modest given the low stakes at the end of a Cactus League game, but Rangers catcher Blake Swihart certainly helped his cause in his bid to earn a bench spot on the Opening Day roster.
Swihart, a first-round Draft pick for the Red Sox in 2011, needs to continue to hit well in Spring Training to have a chance to be a utility man for Texas when the season begins on March 26. He’s also trying to show the Rangers he can be a serviceable backup at first base, where he has played 59 innings in five Major League seasons. Swihart can also play the corner outfield positions. More than two-thirds of his MLB innings have been behind the plate.
“I think I bring some versatility that I can play anywhere on the field and also catch,” he said Sunday before the Rangers' game against the Dodgers. “So when I saw that [the Rangers] were in need of first basemen, I wanted it to be known that I can play first.”
Swihart is a career .243 hitter in 234 games in the Majors, but he hit just .163 in 99 combined plate appearances for the Red Sox and D-backs in 2019. Rangers manager Chris Woodward said Swihart’s offensive production this spring is the most important factor in whether he earns a spot.
“That’s going to probably open up the most doors -- if he hits well, we’ll find a way to get him in there,” Woodward said. “Continue to work on the catching aspect, that’s kind of a big one for him. He can improve in that, and he has. … If he does that well and his bat plays, [with] his ability to play left field or right field, maybe a little first base -- that’s probably the best path.”
Farrell thriving a year after scare
Monday will mark the first anniversary of the scary incident in which right-hander Luke Farrell was hit in the face by a line drive that left him with a fractured jaw and a serious concussion. He was rushed to the hospital across the street from Scottsdale Stadium and ultimately had five surgeries to repair his jaw. The injuries plagued him for months; he eventually returned to Minor League action in late July and made it back to the Rangers on Aug. 23.
Pitching for his fourth MLB team in less than three years, Farrell compiled a 1-0 record with a 2.70 ERA and a 0.67 WHIP in nine games for Texas. He has pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings with three strikeouts this spring.
“We knew the stuff was there -- we knew last year when we got Luke that the stuff played, fastball up in the zone [and] both breaking balls have really good characteristics,” Woodward said. “He really bought into how to use his stuff better … he showed it at the end of the year, as well.”
He said it
“More teams are willing to sacrifice the defense. When I came up it was, 'can you play shortstop?' Now it’s like, 'Can you catch the ball if it’s hit to you?' … Teams are willing to overlook a little lack of the ability to play a traditional shortstop and just say, 'OK, can this guy catch a ground ball when it’s hit to him and make a throw to first base?'” -- Woodward, on what teams expect from bench players in the age of frequent infield shifts.
• Matt Duffy, another possibility for a bench job to start the season, made his sixth start of the spring Sunday at third base. Duffy, who was the Rays’ regular third baseman in 2018, was 1-for-3 against the Dodgers and is 4-for-17 in Cactus League action.
• Sam Travis saw his first game action of the spring Sunday, starting at designated hitter and batting eighth. He went 1-for-2 with a two-run single. Travis, a non-roster invitee, has been out with a right hamstring strain since the start of Spring Training. Primarily a first baseman who has also played corner outfield, Travis hit .215 with six homers in 59 games for the Red Sox in 2019.
• Closer Jose Leclerc pitched a sim game/live bullpen session Sunday morning in Surprise and could return to game action this week. He was out on paternity leave since last week for the birth of his son, Liam Jose.
Right-hander Kyle Gibson will make his Cactus League debut for the Rangers, starting against the Indians in Surprise, on Monday at 2:05 p.m. CT. Gibson was 13-7 with a 4.84 ERA in 34 games, including 29 starts, for the Twins last season before signing as a free agent with Texas in December.