SURPRISE, ARIZONA -- No, this guy didn't show up and go dumb yesterday afternoon here at Texas Rangers spring training. But this guy went deep. Twice. Which, for a team in desperate need of some thump from its outfield, was great news. It was Nelson Cruz's first two dingers of the spring, but better late than never, right?
"He's so strong," says manager Ron Washington. "Amazing things happen when he swings the bat."
The other news from the middle of the Arizona desert was that closer Eric Gagne finally pitched in an "A" game and looked sharp -- except for one lazy curve that sashayed through the strike zone before being launched on to the left-field grassy knoll by some San Francisco Giant whose name you'd never remember.
"What curve?" Gagne said afterward. "You mean the one that turned into a missle?"
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Just seeing Gagne throwing hard and well -- if not all that smart -- means one of the Rangers' major gambles is so far, so good. If Texas is to challenge for the American League West crown, their 1-2 bullpen punch of Akinori Otsuka and Gagne, coming off two injury-riddled seasons, will be a main reason. Didn't go perfectly Tuesday, as after Gagne allowed a 'tater, Otsuka surrendered one to, you guessed it, Barry Bonds. Actually, Gagne got his third out with Bonds in the on-deck circle.
"You saw what he did, right?" Gagne said of Bonds. "I don't need to face him right now. I've got enough to work on."
Even with Sammy Sosa's planned absence -- he'll play today against his old team when the Rangers face the Cubs across town in Mesa -- disappointing the 7,152 fans who wanted to see a spring showdown of steroid sluggers, there were plenty of positives for Texas. Pitcher Robinson Tejada looked sharp. Outfielder Matt Kata continued his surprising push for a roster spot. The weather was perfect.