Calhoun set to return to Rangers Tuesday

ARLINGTON — Rangers outfielder Willie Calhoun will be activated off the injured list on Tuesday, when the club opens a three-game series in Houston, with Scott Heineman headed to the alternate training site in a corresponding move.
Calhoun has been sidelined since Aug. 19, when he suffered a strained left

ARLINGTON — Rangers outfielder Willie Calhoun will be activated off the injured list on Tuesday, when the club opens a three-game series in Houston, with Scott Heineman headed to the alternate training site in a corresponding move.

Calhoun has been sidelined since Aug. 19, when he suffered a strained left hamstring beating out an infield hit in the 10th inning of a 6-3 loss to the Padres.

“He actually looks pretty good,” manager Chris Woodward said. “He hit the last couple of days; everything from a swing standpoint looks normal. He ran the bases and said he feels pretty good. He is going to run them one more time today. Honestly, probably be activated on Tuesday. That’s kind of our plan right now.”

Calhoun’s injury is the latest chapter of an eventful timeline that really goes back to last season.

What is the timeline?
Calhoun had a strong finish to the 2019 season. In his final 57 games, he hit .265/.328/.540 with 16 home runs and 35 RBIs. That convinced the Rangers he was ready for a full-time job in left field.

To make room, Nomar Mazara was traded to the White Sox for outfield prospect Steele Walker. Joey Gallo was moved to right field.

Calhoun was all set until March 8, when he was hit in the face by a fastball thrown by Dodgers left-hander Julio Urías. Calhoun suffered a fractured jaw, eliminating his chance to be on the Opening Day roster in March.

Except there was no Opening Day. Baseball was shut down for three months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Calhoun was ready for Summer Camp, went 2-for-37 in intra-squad games and sustained a strained right hip flexor that left him limited when the season started. Calhoun was hitting .172/.206/.224 when he strained the left hamstring.

How did this impact the season?
Calhoun was supposed to be the Rangers’ No. 3 hitter, and that spot has turned into a black hole. Entering Saturday’s doubleheader against Oakland, Texas’ three-hole hitters were batting a combined .150/.209/.228. Their left fielders were hitting .170/.247/.264.

Calhoun still had much to prove this season. The Rangers had high expectations, based mainly on what he did over half a season in 2019. But this was supposed to be Calhoun’s chance to confirm he could be a run-producing asset in the middle of a Major League lineup.

That remains an unknown.

“I think it has been a trying season,” Woodward said. “I don’t want to label it as a lost season. He has learned a lot of things and has had to endure a lot of things. It has been a really challenging year. Hopefully he can get back out there starting Tuesday and finish on a strong note, because this year has been difficult for a lot of people. Especially him.”

What’s the plan now?
Calhoun will start out at designated hitter. The Rangers want to get him as many at-bats as possible, but Woodward said Calhoun isn’t ready to play the outfield.

“He’s running the bases, [but] I wouldn’t want to put him out in the outfield right now. Not right away,” Woodward said. “I think when he first comes back, it’ll probably be DH. I may get him out there towards the end [of the season].”

Calhoun’s long-term future may be as a designated hitter. The Rangers are using Eli White in left, Leody Taveras in center and Gallo in right, and they see that as a “premium” defensive outfield, although White still has to prove himself offensively. Nick Solak can play both the outfield and second base.

The DH could have an immediate opening next season, because 38-year-old Shin-Soo Choo is an impending free agent. The Rangers’ focus on young players strongly suggests they are ready to move on from Choo.

But the next step is to get Calhoun back in action again, starting Tuesday in Houston.

“Get him out there as much as possible,” Woodward said. “He is one of the guys I look at as a big part of our lineup, so getting him as many at-bats as possible is the key.”

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.