Unlikely All-Stars: Pence, Minor big comebacks with Rangers

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FILE – In this May 29, 2019, file photo, Texas Rangers’ Hunter Pence is greeted in the dugout after he scored on an RBI single hit by Asdrubal Cabrera during the first inning of a baseball game in Seattle. Pence was being wished well in retirement last year. Next week, he’ll be at the All-Star Game representing the Rangers. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Hunter Pence was being wished well in retirement last year, even by the manager for whom the outfielder played in two World Series. Mike Minor didn’t pitch in the majors for two seasons and then was a full-time reliever before the chance to start again.

Pence and Minor are now headed to the All-Star Game to represent the Texas Rangers.

“It’s a big moment. I feel like now nobody can take that away from me,” Minor said. “I always looked at guys that had ‘All-Star’ beside their name and when they signed things … I’d always look at that, and I always wanted to have that.”

While Pence and Minor won’t get to play in Cleveland, young Rangers slugger Joey Gallo will be available for the American League team in Tuesday night’s game. But a recent oblique strain will keep the outfielder from doing what everybody really wants to see — him taking hacks in the Home Run Derby.

With Minor (8-4, 2.54 ERA) scheduled to start Sunday at Minnesota in the Rangers’ last game before the break, he will be ineligible to pitch in the All-Star Game.

The 36-year-old Pence, who went to winter ball before going to spring training with his hometown team on a minor league deal, was voted by fans as the AL’s starting designated hitter. He was replaced as the All-Star DH this week because he is still recovering from a strained right groin that put him on the injured list June 17.

“Everything in life is a choice … like how amazing and how much could I appreciate this,” said Pence, an All-Star for the fourth time in his 13 big league seasons. “Would I have thought that I would even have the choice to be disappointed in going to an All-Star Game last year in the offseason when I didn’t even have a job.”

Pence said he’s focused on getting healthy for the second half with the Rangers, an unexpected playoff contender. He has hit .294 with 15 homers and 48 RBIs in 55 games.

After a thumb injury early last season, Pence hit .226 with four homers and 24 RBIs — all career lows — in 97 games to close out his 6½ seasons with the San Francisco Giants. He was part of World Series titles in 2012 and 2014.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy was among those congratulating Pence on a great career at the end of last season.

“It was a kind and loving gesture, and I appreciated it. I was, ‘Thank you so much.’ But to be standing here now is crazy,” Pence said. “They were thanking me for a great career, and they enjoyed watching me play. I couldn’t blame them or be mad at them.”

Minor was the seventh overall pick in the 2009 draft out of Vanderbilt and made his big league debut with Atlanta the following year. He made 110 starts for the Braves through 2014 before surgery for a torn labrum in his shoulder.

After returning to the majors with a 2.55 ERA in 65 appearances for Kansas City in 2017, Minor turned down a $10 million player option and instead signed as a free agent with the Rangers for the chance to start again.

Minor led the Rangers last year with 12 wins and 157 innings, more than doubling his 2017 workload as a reliever, with most of his team-high 28 starts on extended rest. The left-hander is one of only three MLB pitchers this season with two complete games, and only four pitchers have thrown more than his 117 innings.

“Last year was kind of a bridge year. I just love that he wasn’t satisfied with that,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “He was like, I showed I can start, but now I want to get a great starter and reach another level, too.”

MLB players voted Gallo to the AL All-Star team. He is the first Rangers’ draft pick who was developed in their system and became their first first-time All-Star for them since second baseman Ian Kinsler in 2008.

After consecutive 40-homer seasons the past two years, Gallo hit .276 with 20 homers in his first 59 games this season. He missed 22 games last month with a left oblique strain, so he and the Rangers didn’t want to risk a recurrence by having him participate in the Home Run Derby.

“He would have been a natural choice,” Daniels said. “But given the circumstances, and recently off the DL with the oblique, I think everybody kind of agreed that it maybe a little early for him to do that.”

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