The coronavirus pandemic didn’t spare Rangers manager Chris Woodward, who revealed Wednesday night during a Facebook Live chat with announcer Dave Raymond as part of the Texas Rangers Winter Caravan that he battled the virus in early November, along with some members of his family.
Woodward said his symptoms were pretty mild, all things considered, but he took his illness seriously. His wife, Erin Woodward, is an ER nurse in the ICU at Banner Desert Medical Center in Arizona, where the family lives, and she shared stories with him about what some of the patients have been going through. He said his wife also had the illness and has recovered.
“It’s no joke,” he said. “If I didn’t have my wife, I wouldn’t know, but I do and I hear her tell the stories, and it’s pretty harrowing. Some of the stories she doesn’t tell me because it’s too heartbreaking.”
With the start of Spring Training a month away, Woodward is growing increasingly more excited about the upcoming season, even if COVID-19 protocols remain a key part of the daily routine. The young Rangers, who were an American League-worst 22-38 last year, are looking to put a difficult 2020 behind them.
“There’s no excuse not to perform well, but last year was a difficult year,” Woodward said. “It just wasn’t the COVID, it wasn’t the protocols. It was so many other factors that made it difficult. Glad to get through it. ... At the other end, we learned a lot, from a staff standpoint, from things we need to improve upon, and players learned a lot of things about how do we improve. Our new ballpark was eye-opening for a lot of us.”
The Rangers, who have a new general manager in Chris Young, will have somewhat of a fresh outlook on the field as well. They have been one of the most active teams this winter, having signed pitcher Kohei Arihara to a two-year contract, acquiring right-hander Dane Dunning from the White Sox, signing outfielder David Dahl to a one-year deal and trading for first baseman Nate Lowe. The club is also moving Isiah Kiner-Falefa to shortstop after he won a Gold Glove Award at third.
“Those are some really good moves for us for the future, and I’m really excited,” Woodward said. “It’s a positive group. They’re hungry, they want to learn, they’re intelligent players and I can’t wait to see what happens.”
Woodward said he feels the players have a good understanding of the expectations, which are on the rise behind a young core group. Woodward said the younger players will come into camp and have to earn their stripes, calling it a meritocracy.
“They’re going to come in and earn their spot and earn the at-bats, earn their jobs, earn their innings, all those things,” he said. “I like where we are. We’ve just got to go out and get it done now.”
With Kiner-Falefa moving to shortstop, Woodward said there will be a competition at third base, which could include Elvis Andrus. Nick Solak will get a shot at second base instead of bouncing between the outfield and second last year.
“There’s going to be a heavy competition in every aspect come Spring Training,” Woodward said.
When it comes to pitching, Woodward said there’s a lot of depth in the rotation but not a lot of experience. Perhaps only Kyle Gibson will be counted on to be a workhorse like Lance Lynn was last year, which means the Rangers will have to be creative in how they fill innings. They’ll need Jordan Lyles to bounce back.
“We’re not going to risk hurting anybody, but at the same time we want to see what we have as we move forward,” he said. “We may piggyback guys, may pitch a [starter] two or three innings. … A lot of upside, but we’ve got to see what we’ve got.”