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Spencer Patton’s call-up may not have been expected, but the move helped solidify a new Rangers standard

In a season committed to seeing younger players, why did the Rangers bring Patton up?

ARLINGTON — It wasn’t long ago that Spencer Patton re-started his pro baseball career in the United States because he couldn’t find an offer from a Nippon Professional Baseball team to stay in Japan. It’d been more than four years since he last pitched in an MLB game — his career 6.26 ERA a clear indicator of his struggles at that level.

So to re-enter affiliated baseball was something of a shot in the dark. It was the best option because it was the only one. And when he was called up from Triple-A Round Rock on Wednesday by the Rangers — a team he played for from 2014-15 — and pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning in Texas’ 4-3, 11-inning win, it validated Patton’s long, weird journey.

“To come back and be activated at the big league level means a lot,” Patton said. “It means all the hard work is still paying off, and I’m still of use at the big league level.”

It means a lot for Patton, yes. But his call-up also means something larger for the Rangers. Patton is a 33-year-old journeyman reliever without proven success. While he may or may not be successful this time around, he’s not a piece that Texas is building around.

In a season where the Rangers are committed to seeing what they have in their younger players, why did the Rangers bring up Patton when closer Ian Kennedy went on the injured list? There are players succeeding at the Triple-A level who are young, who do project to be on the big league roster for years to come.

On the surface, it might not make sense. But the purpose of Patton’s call-up reflects how the Rangers want build a culture.

“Patton, what he’s done, we can’t ignore that,” said manager Chris Woodward. “He’s been nothing but a pro. We want our guys to know that, hey, if you go down, you pitch well and you dominate, you’re probably going to be here when something happens and we have that need.”

The right-hander had been dominating at Round Rock. He’d thrown 12 shutout innings with 12 strikeouts and four saves.

He went to Japan after the 2016 season because he realized he wasn’t effectively pitching inside to hitters. He doesn’t know why, but it was an issue. And he worked it out in Japan, along with picking up a changeup.

He was signed to a minor league contract in February with the Rangers, the team he made his MLB debut for seven years ago. The only player still on the team from Patton’s last season with the Rangers in 2015 is Joey Gallo. Delino DeShields, his teammate at Round Round, was also on the Rangers in 2015.

“I think you’ve always got to pitch with the mentality that you could be next regardless of the situation,” Patton said of waiting for the call-up. “But I just go out and focus on the game that’s in front of me at the time.”

Patton was obviously deserving. And that’s the metric the Rangers used in making this decision. By promoting the person most deserving, the message is sent that being productive is the best way to make the roster. It promotes the concept of a meritocracy.

Texas has Joe Barlow, 25 with a 3.21 ERA, and Jacob Lemoine, 27 with a 1.84 ERA, at Triple-A. They were the next people up, Woodward said, when asked about them specifically.

“They’ve just got to keep pitching well,” Woodward said. “I know they’re younger. They still need to continue to do what they’re doing. Obviously we want to see our younger guys, but we want to make sure that they’re ready when we call them. And that they deserve it.”

Patton’s comeback is a great story. Even he acknowledged that when he first went to Japan, it was considered the place “where pitchers go to die.” Not literally, of course. But in the sense that getting back to the majors seldom happens.

It will be an even better story if he pitches akin to what he did on Wednesday. His clean effort set up the Rangers’ offense for a comeback in the ninth and a win two innings later. It may very well be that Patton isn’t with the team if and when the Texas becomes a relevant team. But his call-up is part of making that happen.

“There’s always an opportunity,” Woodward said. “It keeps our guys down in Triple-A and even Double-A pretty hungry knowing that, if they’re doing well, they could be the guys called up next.”

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Find more Rangers coverage from The Dallas Morning News here.

In This Story

Sam Blum, Staff Writer. Sam covers SMU athletics and the Texas Rangers for The Dallas Morning News, and previously covered Auburn University athletics for AL.com. He's also covered University of Virginia athletics for The Daily Progress in Charlottesville. He graduated from Syracuse University.

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