Slugger Gallo relaxes, helps Rangers win without long ball
By SCHUYLER DIXON
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) Joey Gallo sometimes pauses for a deep breath or glances around the ballpark between pitches looking for something to slow his racing mind.
The big Texas slugger grew up trying to hit baseballs as far as he could, so the idea of relaxing in the moments before one of the most powerful swings in the majors wasn't the easiest to grasp.
Yet there he was, spending two hours with a Rangers coach discussing ways to clear his head in the middle of an at-bat after his average had dipped well below a career mark barely above .200.
A week later, Gallo tied his career high of five RBIs without hitting a homer and had his first-ever sacrifice fly in the big leagues.
With a little help from one of his typical sky-high popups that fell for a single , the left-handed hitter's batting average was .281 entering Monday, its highest since early in Gallo's first full season in the majors two years ago.
"I've always been really tense in trying to crush the ball," Gallo said. "It is tough because my whole life I've tried to hit bombs. So trying to change that is different but it's something I've got to do."
First-year manager Chris Woodward believes patience and calm at the plate can help Gallo finish a season with a batting average above .210 for the first time, and reduce his average of 202 strikeouts from those first two full seasons.
Woodward thinks all players at some point struggle to slow down the game in their minds, so it helps to have the most imposing figure in his clubhouse embracing that reality.
"If you just ignore it and try to be tough guy about it, it's not going away," Woodward said. "I'm proud of Joey because he's dealing with it. He's talking about it. He's open to it. That makes him accountable to it. He's going to help a lot of our other players."
Gallo is still hitting homers, too. He entered Monday with eight for the season, tied for fourth in the AL and trailing leader Khris Davis of the Oakland Athletics by two.
The 25-year-old still has more homers than singles for his career, a distinction that isn't likely to change soon because of shifts. Houston has used all four infielders on the right side against Gallo this year, after using four outfielders on him last year.
"Every time the ball comes off his bat, you just think you're going to see something you've never seen before," Woodward said. "Joey's kind of at that point right now that every time he puts a swing on a ball, you're almost expecting it to go out of the stadium."
Gallo, who entered Monday second in the AL with 22 RBIs, has had two of the more well-rounded games of his career in the past week. The first was a three-hit night to end the slump that prompted the meeting about his approach at the plate.
After a homer that was among the hardest-hit in the majors this season, Gallo rolled an RBI single through the vacant hole at shortstop to put the Rangers ahead for good in a 12-7 win over the Los Angeles Angels.
The buzz in the dugout for that shift-beating hit was similar to the one after his first sac fly in his 1,337th plate appearance in Sunday's 11-10 win over the Astros. Gallo drove in two more by pulling a triple down the line in right, got a break with the pop-fly single on a sunny and blustery day and added an RBI groundout.
Elvis Andrus joked that Gallo should have "a thousand sacrifices already," while the slugger doesn't want to say that he finally has his first because he's finally understanding that he can relax at the plate and maintain his powerful presence. He doesn't want to say much about it at all.
"It's really hard to talk about when things are going well," Gallo said. "And it's not why I get a hit. But every time on deck, I'm breathing, just trying to slow my heart rate down and trying to just focus on the task at hand ... instead of trying to make it bigger than it needs to be."
Whatever the reason, he's getting results.
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Updated April 22, 2019