Rangers outfielder Willie Calhoun said that Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo is one of his best friends. They talk to each other almost every day, which really helped Calhoun as he rehabbed from a left groin injury throughout last month.
Both were drafted by the Dodgers -- Calhoun in 2015 and Verdugo in 2014 -- and played throughout the Minor Leagues together. One thing Calhoun specifically worked on after talking to Verdugo was beating the shift.
“I talked to him everyday about hitting and he's a really good hitter,” Calhoun said. “He uses the whole field, and that's something that I want to get back to. In the Minor Leagues, I was able to do it, I was able to use the whole field. Honestly, he helps me out a lot just because he's my age, he's a guy that I can trust. He's seen my swing ever since 2015. “
Calhoun suffered the injury early in Spring Training and has been rehabbing ever since. He made his return to the Rangers’ big league club during Saturday’s matchup with the Orioles, going 2-for-4 at the plate with two shift-beating singles in the 6-1 loss. He said he was more than happy to get those two hits in his first game back.
“He talks about it openly, he's tired of people shifting him so he's gonna do everything he can,'' said manager Chris Woodward. “I think the biggest key for him is to just stay to the middle of the field.
“He's trying to eliminate pull side ground balls and elevate the ball in the air to the pull side, especially on offspeed [pitches]. If you can do that, he's going to hit line drives all over the field, he's going to hit balls in the gaps, he's going to hit his home runs. He’s dedicated to that."
Calhoun hit just .190 through 29 games in 2020. He also battled injuries throughout the shortened season, including a fractured jaw in Spring Training, a strained oblique muscle and a left hamstring strain.
Woodward said he thinks Calhoun’s injury struggles last year set him up to be able to mentally handle the groin injury early this year. Calhoun said that his offseason at home in California, was beneficial for him to decompress and start fresh this year.
Rangers right fielder Joey Gallo said that he talked to Calhoun a lot over the last couple weeks as he finished his rehab in Arizona and at the Round Rock alternate site. He said that Calhoun is in a good place mentally and is ready to contribute to the team.
“I want him to just be relaxed,” Gallo said. “I think he feels 100 percent now and that's the main thing for him. He's not battling through any injuries. I think he can be a huge piece and help our lineup. For him, it's just relaxing and playing the game. He's such a good hitter that good things are gonna happen."
Calhoun said his goal right now is to have 100 consistent at-bats, without any interruptions due to injury. Through 29 games in 2020, he had exactly 100 at-bats, but not without interruption. He thinks he tried to do too much and rush back earlier than he was ready, and that’s what caused him to struggle last year even when he was healthy.
He’s now ready to contribute to the club, both physically and mentally.
“After he got hurt, he was a little frustrated, he was pretty upset,” Woodward said. “But then he obviously calmed down and said you know what? I got to get this thing right. We obviously had a plan in place for him to make sure that he was ready and not rushing back. So I feel like he's in a good spot right now and ready to help us, ready to contribute.”