Veteran OF Pence set to start season with hometown Rangers

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              Texas Rangers' Hunter Pence can't catch an RBI base hit by Cincinnati Reds' Blake Trahan during the first inning of a spring training baseball game, Saturday, March 16, 2019, in Goodyear, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)
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SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) — Veteran outfielder Hunter Pence is set to start the season with his hometown Texas Rangers after going to spring training on a minor league contract.

Manager Chris Woodward told Pence on Thursday that he will be on the 25-man roster as the team’s fourth outfielder when the Rangers open the regular season at home next Thursday against the Chicago Cubs.

That means slimmed-down 24-year-old outfielder Willie Calhoun will start the season at Triple-A Nashville.

Pence, a three-time All-Star who turns 36 on April 13, is a .280 career hitter in 12 big league seasons with Houston, Philadelphia and San Francisco. He was part of two World Series championships with the Giants.

Pence was hitting .333 with three homers and seven RBIs in 40 spring training at-bats through Thursday. The right-hander was a better fit for the Rangers roster at this point. He will make $2 million while in the majors.

“This is a really big deal, and it impacted me in a big way,” Pence said. “To be honest, the way I ended last year and how I played wasn’t good enough. I needed to get better and I put my mind to it. I’m extremely appreciative of this opportunity and it’s very special.”

Pence dealt with a thumb injury early last season, when he played 97 games for San Francisco. He hit .226 with four homers and 24 RBIs, all career lows, before playing winter ball.

He played at Arlington High School and then at the University of Texas-Arlington, only a few miles from the Rangers home stadium.

Calhoun is a left-handed hitter, like slugging corner outfielders Joey Gallo and Nomar Mazara, and designated hitter/outfielder Shin-Soo Choo. Delino DeShields, a right-hander, is expected to start in center.

“He was not happy obviously, and rightfully so,” Woodward said of Calhoun, who came to camp after losing about 24 pounds during the offseason. “This will be a learning moment for him to see how mature he can handle the situation. It’s not an easy one. He has done everything we’ve asked.”

Woodward previously was with the Dodgers. The Rangers got Calhoun from Los Angeles when they traded Yu Darvish during the 2017 season.