Beltre back in the swing with successful debut
Right calf issue behind him, third baseman keeps eye toward Classic
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Adrian Beltre's right calf was tested from all angles on Monday, and it held up just fine in his spring debut -- a prospect that bodes well for both the Texas Rangers and the Dominican Republic.
"Coming out of the box quick, swinging hard, a quick reaction at third -- everything went fine," the Rangers third baseman said after he was removed in the fifth inning of a victory over San Diego.
In order to maximize his at-bats in as few innings as possible, Beltre led off and roped a double down the right-field line in his first spring at-bat. He looked comfortable sprinting to first before slowing his stride to cruise into second. He finished the day 1-for-3 with a run and reached in the third inning on an error.
Beltre was also tested in the field, starting a nifty around-the-horn double play on a sharp liner to his left that he initially dropped. An inning later, he was forced to backpedal awkwardly onto the outfield grass, but made his play on a routine popup look, well, routine.
If everything goes according to plan -- meaning Beltre's calf continues to heal and the Dominican Republic squad advances past the first round -- Beltre will join his native country in Miami for the second round of the World Baseball Classic.
"It's hard to say," Beltre said when asked if he would have to move along any quicker than usual in order to prepare himself for the Classic. "I'll see how I feel and see if I'm healthy enough to force it and do everything 100 percent. Today was a good test, and it felt fine, and we'll see how it goes the next day."
So what are Beltre's plans when the Dominican Republic takes the field for Pool C action on Thursday night against Venezuela in San Juan, Puerto Rico? He'll be watching and cheering along with the rest of his countrymen.
"I'm always the biggest fan regarding my country," Beltre said.
Despite a team loaded with star power, the Dominican Republic is by no means a lock for a berth in the second round. Pool C is considered by most to be the toughest group in the Classic, featuring Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Spain.
Beltre didn't play in the '09 edition, when the Dominicans were upset twice by the Kingdom of the Netherlands and didn't advance past the first round.
"Last [time] wasn't pretty," Beltre said. "But stuff happens. It's a short series, anything can happen. I hope they do better than what they did in the last one."
"They took the Netherlands probably too lightly last WBC," Beltre added. "This year, they're going to go maybe more hungry."
In the meantime, Beltre will be doing his part by prepping for a chance to jump into action on March 12 at Marlins Park. What that entails is being comfortable enough to play at full speed for a nine-inning game.
The next step in that process is a day off Tuesday, followed by a start Wednesday in which he'll likely see six or seven innings of action. Beltre added that his mental readiness for a nine-inning affair is just as important to him as the physical preparation.
Rangers manager Ron Washington agreed, saying he's not too concerned with sending his three-time All-Star star third baseman away for up to eight days.
"When he leaves he'll be playing baseball, so he'll be continuing to get swings," Washington said. "It's not like he's leaving and all of a sudden he won't be working. He's going to continue to work."
Fortunately for Beltre, at this point in his career, he doesn't need much to feel ready for a season. He put the number at only 20 or so plate appearances. Anything after that, he said, is just extra practice.
"I don't need a lot of at-bats," Beltre said. "Again, it depends how I feel, but most of my good years have been when I take less at-bats in Spring Training."
At 33, Beltre is coming off the second-best season of his career -- a season in which he finished third in the voting for American League Most Valuable Player. In 2012, he hit .321 and slugged .561, while notching 36 homers and 102 RBIs. He also won his fourth Gold Glove Award.
So what does he have to do in order to feel that same level of preparedness for when the meaningful games start this time around?
"It's just about having that right feeling, especially offensively," Beltre said. "Defensively it's easier. It comes back fast. Offensively, you need to find that little groove where you feel comfortable."