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Pence making strong push to return in 2019

Veteran discusses back injury, hopes for return to Texas next year
@Sullivan_Ranger
September 12, 2019

ARLINGTON -- Time is running out for Hunter Pence to play again this season. But he did make one thing clear as he tries to overcome a lower back injury: He is going to do everything possible to get back on the field before the season is over. “I need

ARLINGTON -- Time is running out for Hunter Pence to play again this season. But he did make one thing clear as he tries to overcome a lower back injury: He is going to do everything possible to get back on the field before the season is over.

“I need to do my due diligence for baseball, my teammates, the Rangers and the fans,” Pence said. “It means more than making the playoffs or not making the playoffs. There is the integrity to the game, myself, the team, everybody, to try and get back as best I can. It’s an honor to take the field.”

Pence has not been on the field since Aug. 22 because of a lower back strain. Pence also revealed that he has a light tear in the disk. He had a pain-relieving injection in his back and has started doing rotational activities but has not resumed swinging a bat.

After the Rangers finish their three-game series with the Rays, they will have 14 games to play. It would seem to be a longshot at best for Pence to get back on the field.

“I think there is a legitimate chance, but I don’t think it’s a definite chance,” Pence said when asked of his return. “To be honest, I just don’t know. I have to get to where I can swing good.”

The question is if Pence will need surgery after the season.

“I don’t think it’s a surgical thing, but if I mess it up, it could be,” Pence said.

That’s why Pence said he needs to be smart about this.

“I am not going to risk quality of life if it’s not a playoff push,” Pence said.

There is also the matter of next season, and Pence, 36, is a free agent. Manager Chris Woodward is on record as saying he would he would love to have Pence back next year.

“I just don’t know where we stand from a roster standpoint. Is it going to be a fit or not?” Woodward said. “Do I want him? 100 percent. There is no doubt about that. It’s just a matter if it fits or not, [that's] the question.”

The feeling is mutual, but Pence also has some uncertainty.

“I would love to be a part of this organization,” Pence said. “There is a lot to be excited about with the young talent. I think there is a wealth of talent here. But I haven’t decided completely what I am going to do next.”

That doesn’t mean Pence is seriously considering retirement. His focus right now is getting his back healthy.

“Right now, my back is really hurting,” Pence said. “The thought of swinging hurts. I want to feel healthy and be able to contribute. I don’t know what the opportunities are going to be. Somebody has got to want me and make an offer.”

Pence said he will not shut it down in the offseason. He will prepare and train with the idea of playing again if the right opportunity is out there.

“I want to be back here,” Pence said. “That would be great.”

Palumbo throws

Left-hander Joe Palumbo threw the equivalent of two innings in a simulated game Thursday with Joey Gallo and Scott Heineman at the plate. It was his first time facing hitters since developing a blister on his left thumb in a start against the Angels on Aug. 20.

“It went well,” Palumbo said. “The thumb held up and the arm held up. The next step is to get in a game.”

That could be as early as Sunday against the Athletics. The Rangers are planning that to be a “bullpen” game, using relievers from the start and Woodward said Palumbo could pitching 1-2 innings that day. It’s unlikely that Palumbo could build his arm strength up to be a full-fledged starter again this season, but he could build up to 3-4 innings before it’s over.

Rangers beat

• Rougned Odor hit his 25th home run of the season Wednesday night. He became the first Rangers second baseman with three 25-plus home run seasons in his career. Alfonso Soriano and Ian Kinsler both reached that mark twice.

• Ian Gibaut earned his first Major League win Wednesday night in the Rangers' 10-9 victory. He is the seventh Rangers pitcher to earn his first Major League win this season. The others are: Pedro Payano, Jonathan Hernandez, Brett Martin, Kyle Dowdy, Emmanuel Clase and Adrian Sampson.

• Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus is the club’s nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award. The overall winner of the prestigious award will be announced during the World Series.

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.