ARLINGTON, Texas — If there were two things we already knew about Texas Rangers slugger Joey Gallo before the 2021 season began, we knew he would get his walks and hit his home runs.
Gallo's walk total has been much higher than anticipated, even for a hitter with an established reputation for earning free passes. He's blown many people away with exceptional plate discipline, and a willingness to earn a free base and let the hitters behind him have an opportunity to do damage.
And once again, in his first plate appearance of Tuesday's game, Gallo earned his American League-leading 23rd walk. That walk also continued an impressive 23-game on-base streak to begin the season.
However, Gallo had also gone 20 games without a home run, undoubtedly the longest drought of his career. But finally, Gallo turned on a first-pitch fastball in his next at-bat, sending a 114-mph rocket over the wall in right field, breaking a 1-1 tie in the process.
"It's just a matter of time," Rangers manager Chris Woodward said after Tuesday's win. "Maybe today's [homer] will kinda spark something. He can take a deep breath and say, 'Okay, I got one.' Then he'll be a little bit more relaxed tomorrow."
After struggling with an elevated launch angle in 2020, Gallo worked on his approach and mechanics over the winter, making a conscious effort to stay on top of the ball more consistently. And early on, there was hardly any concern about Gallo's home run production. He hit five home runs in the first six games of Cactus League play. Gallo also hit his first regular season homer in the second game of the year. Hardly anyone thought twice about a potential power outage.
Now that the home run drought is behind him, maybe Chris Woodward is right. Maybe the pressure of getting that first home run to snap the drought will also break the dam.
But let's go back to that refined approach. Both of Gallo's home runs have been far below his career launch angle for home runs prior to 2021 (30 degrees). It's obviously a very small sample size, but his first two home runs have been 24 and 22 degrees respectively. They've also been hit much harder than his prior average home run exit velocity of 108 mph.
Lower and harder. These are line drives that are turning into home runs just because Joey Gallo is a big, strong guy.
Chris Woodward and Rangers leadership have remained steadfast that Gallo's power would eventually come through, even much earlier than Tuesday night. With the adjustments Gallo made to hit more line drives, I asked Chris Woodward if we should expect to see more home runs like the two we've seen this season.
"I think that will happen at times," Woodward said. "But no, I think he's gonna hit some moon balls like he normally does. I really do. I think it's just a matter of time, honestly. I think instead of maybe popping it up at times, he'll launch it into the 18th row. They're coming."
Even so, the 114-mph screamers are a lot of fun to watch as well. The loud crack of the bat will draw all drifting eyes in the ballpark back to the field.
Joey Gallo is dedicated to becoming a more complete player. If the home runs keep coming, and are coupled with the exceptional patience he's displayed thus far, we may see the best version of Joey Gallo we've ever witnessed.