Notes: Semien more at ease; deGrom plays catch

February 21st, 2023

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Year 2 of ’s tenure with the Rangers is already off to a more relaxed and comfortable start. The 32-year-old strode into the club’s complex in Surprise after an offseason of having worked out in the familiar surroundings of Arlington, getting in his work while also enjoying family time.

No Players' Association subcommittee duties surrounding a lockout, no free agency worries -- just a focus on preparation and, eventually, reaping results.

“Most of camp last year was just trying to learn people’s names, forget them, learn them again. At the same time, there was added pressure to be that leader immediately because the team was so young in 2021,” Semien said. “Camp was kind of a whirlwind. Now it’s more relaxed for me, and I feel a lot more confident going in.”

Semien’s Rangers tenure began on an inauspicious note as he failed to go deep until May 28, a power slump exacerbated by his career-high 45 homers with Toronto the year prior. While he noted that he struggled with velocity early on -- largely a byproduct of the delayed opening to the season -- 2023 already has a unique vibe around it, stemming from the club’s first full-squad workout.

Semien was among a group of Rangers hitters -- including Corey Seager, Nathaniel Lowe, Adolis García, Mitch Garver and others -- to take hacks during live batting practice sessions on Surprise’s back fields Monday.

While most at-bats are utilized just to get a feel for seeing live pitching without an L-screen or cage again, Semien wasted little time showing off the fruits of his offseason labor. Facing Minor League southpaw Jake Latz, the second baseman walloped a no-doubt home run to left field, earning considerable whooping and hollering from teammates.

Being that steadying force not only in the lineup but the clubhouse has been a new experience for Semien, who is embarking on back-to-back full seasons with a team for the first time since 2019. Having taken the time to work with younger members of the Rangers during the offseason, he is finding the happy medium between producing with his bat and his words.

“I always thought I worked hard,” Semien said, “but when you have young people watching you, players who feel like they’re trying to make a roster spot, I went the extra mile [this offseason] just to show them what we’re capable of.”

Quick hits
• Rangers right-hander played light catch Monday, a step forward after the team held him back from throwing a bullpen session last week. Manager Bruce Bochy wouldn’t put a firm date on when the four-time All-Star would throw his first bullpen with his new club, but he expected it to be later in the week as the team exercises caution with its prized free-agent signee from this offseason.

• The most notable pitching performance from the live batting practice sessions came from , whom the club selected with the third overall pick in last July’s Draft. Rocker first won a battle of young talent, whiffing No. 1-ranked Rangers prospect Josh Jung.

But the biggest test came in the form of Semien, who swatted a single in his first encounter vs. Rocker. The former Vanderbilt standout bounced back to strike out the second baseman in a later at-bat.

While the club’s No. 8 prospect isn’t expected to break camp with Texas, garnering experience against big leaguers in any venue -- especially after making just five competitive appearances last year -- goes a long way in setting the stage for his future.

“I think this whole camp experience is really just learning from it and learning to get comfortable,” Rocker said.

also worked a live batting practice session Monday. The righty, who will battle for a rotation spot this spring, faced a group that consisted of Brad Miller, Josh Smith and new signee Robbie Grossman, racking up five strikeouts. To prepare himself, Dunning worked the session with a 15-second pitch timer, the amount of time pitchers will have beginning in 2023 to start their motion between pitches when there are no runners on base.

•  While Monday marked the first day of full-squad workouts, there were a pair of absences: (Texas’ No. 7 prospect) and . Both were delayed due to travel issues but are expected to join the club soon.

Acuña, the younger brother of Braves star Ronald Acuña Jr., is looking to get further reps against elevated competition after playing in the Arizona Fall League last year. Tsutsugo signed with the Rangers on a Minor League deal with an invite to big league camp in January. Though Tsutsugo was a longtime slugger in Japan, things haven’t clicked stateside for the 31-year-old, who will be looking to make the club as a left-handed bat capable of backing up at first base or in a corner-outfield spot.