Splitting spring training camp to provide enough marketable players for Big League Weekend here and Cactus League games in Arizona is a challenge under normal conditions.
Toss in the World Baseball Classic, along with injuries, and the task stretched the Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians thinner than some paying customers preferred.
Cleveland won the opener 3-2 Friday night behind three solo home runs and dominant pitching.
“You’ve got three different spring trainings going on at one time,” Rangers Assistant General Manager Mike Daly said. “There is the WBC, our regular group and the minor league camp. And then we want to send a representative group to San Antonio.”
The Rangers, who have nine players competing in the WBC, brought just two projected regulars, first baseman Mike Napoli and right fielder Nomar Mazara. Outfielders Delino DeShields and infielder Will Middlebrooks, competing for roster spots, are in San Antonio.
“I’d like to see more of the main guys, for sure, but it’s spring, it’s baseball,” said Rangers fan Alec McGuire of San Marcos. “This gets you warmed up for the real thing.”
Napoli, who rejoined the Rangers on a one-year contract after a highly successful year in Cleveland, said the lack of familiar faces doesn’t mean Big League Weekend won’t be interesting.
“We’ll try to put on a good show,” he said. “These games here can be pretty entertaining with the dimensions and all the fans who show up. They’re not like normal spring training games.”
The Rangers made sure to include a Round Rock Express feel for Austin-area fans with center fielder Jared Hoying, shortstop Doug Bernier and several relief pitchers.
Cleveland, the defending American League champion, had an even tougher time bringing a competitive roster. The Indians have 13 players in the WBC. Their big names at the Alamodome are All-Star pitcher Danny Salazar, who started Friday night; breakout third baseman Jose Ramirez; and the right-field platoon of Lonnie Chisenhall and Brandon Guyer.
“You want to give these fans some players they know, but it wasn’t easy with all that’s going on,” Indians Manager Terry Francona said. “We brought along several prospects,” including speedy outfielder Greg Allen and shortstop Yu-Cheng Chang.
Second baseman Josh Morgan, Texas’ No. 6 prospect, is the only top-10 farmhand the Rangers sent.
“It is interesting to see how the kids react in front of a big crowd,” Texas Manager Jeff Banister said in Arizona last week.
Big League Weekend has averaged roughly 60,000 fans for the two games combined through its first four years.
It didn’t take Indians hitters long to take a liking to the short right-field porch in the Alamodome, which measures 270 feet down the line and 350 to right center.
Chisenhall and Abraham Almonte struck back-to-back homers to right in the first inning, and Eric Kratz added another in the second.
Salazar dazzled, striking out nine batters in five innings.
Texas’ only offense came in the third with help from the quirky Alamodome. Mazara and Napoli were given credit for RBI doubles on shallow fly balls that hit beams across the roof and were redirected.
Rotation woes: Rangers starting pitching, already stretched thin by injuries to Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross, suffered another blow. Chi Chi Gonzalez was diagnosed with a partial tear of the UCL in his right elbow. He will not throw for six weeks and then will be re-evaluated.
NEXT FOR RANGERS
Saturday: Cleveland Indians (Mike Clevinger) vs. Texas Rangers (Dillon Gee), at Alamodome, San Antonio, 2:05 p.m. Postgame concert: Los Lonely Boys
Tickets: $10 to $77, available at www.bigleagueweekend.com or at the gate.
Note: Saturday’s ticket also includes admission to a sports collectible show and giveaway at 11:30 a.m. and a hot-dog eating contest at 1 p.m.
March 29: Camp breaks in Surprise, Ariz.
April 3: Opening day, vs. Cleveland Indians, at Arlington, 6:05 p.m.
April 6: Opening night for Round Rock Express, vs. Nashville, at Dell Diamond, 7:05 p.m.