Camp surprise Duran shows valuable versatility
Infielder-outfielder makes case for Opening Day roster; Pérez, Gray get extra work
ARLINGTON -- This spring, Ezequiel Duran could hardly have put himself in a more advantageous position to make the Rangers’ Opening Day roster -- even if it’s a position he’s never played in a regular-season Major League game.
Much of the attention the 23-year-old earned in Spring Training has been, deservedly, for his torrid performance at the plate. He started in Tuesday afternoon’s 5-3 exhibition win against the Royals at Globe Life Field, going 1-for-2 with a double in his first at-bat.
Duran flashed gaudy numbers in the Cactus League, hitting .357 in 56 at-bats over 26 games, and he only got hotter as the schedule progressed. He hit three homers in his last two games in Arizona, and doubled seven times in his final 12 spring games. He even stole home on Tuesday.
All those superlatives aside, manager Bruce Bochy said Duran’s most intriguing quality this spring -- and what may have cleared his path to the Opening Day roster -- has been his defensive versatility. As an MLB rookie last season, Duran played mostly third base with a smattering of time at second, but this spring, he played 28 2/3 innings in left field and 27 innings at shortstop. He also played 58 innings at third.
“If you look at who may have been a surprise in Spring Training, he would be right there at the top,” Bochy said. “How well he’s handled everything -- every position I’ve put him at, including shortstop and the outfield.”
Duran started in left field against the Royals and made a slick play to end the second inning by running down a sharp liner and pulling in an over-the-shoulder catch. He moved to third base to start the seventh inning, where he played the rest of the game.
Being able to play shortstop obviously adds to Duran’s versatility, but the outfield is where the Rangers suddenly need more depth. They are all but certain to put Leody Taveras on the 10-day injured list (left oblique strain) prior to Opening Day, Bochy said.
Duran does have professional experience at six positions, albeit not at the big league level. Over the course of 2022, at Double-A Frisco, Triple-A Round Rock and in the Dominican Winter League, Duran played multiple games at all three outfield positions as well as third, short and second.
At the Major League level, though, the Rangers didn’t try to use Duran anywhere but third and second during his 60 games there in 2022. Nearly 90 percent of his 483 2/3 innings as a Major League fielder were at third base.
The fact that Bochy wants to get Duran comfortable in Globe Life Field’s outfield now bodes well for his chances to remain with the club for Thursday’s season opener against the Phillies.
“He just had an incredible Spring Training for a young guy,” Bochy said. “He had a lot thrown at him. We all know how well he swung the bat, but defensively is what’s impressive.”
Pérez, Gray work overtime
The Rangers only used two pitchers in the spring finale against the Royals, and both needed extra work before their days were done.
Starter Martín Pérez allowed one run on two hits and one walk to go with five strikeouts in five innings. He was relieved by Jon Gray, who allowed two runs on three hits and one walk with seven strikeouts in four innings.
Pérez threw about 15 pitches in the bullpen after his 70 in the game, then Gray stayed on the mound and faced Rangers hitters for about 10 minutes, after he threw only 61 pitches in the game.