Texas Rangers win the game, but loses a key player

The injury bug has struck Texas once again as another all-star suffers an unfortunate injury.
Miami Marlins v Texas Rangers
Miami Marlins v Texas Rangers / Ron Jenkins/GettyImages
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Texas has had nothing but really good news since the trade deadline, but that came to an end after the game this afternoon. Texas did win 6-0 to complete an undefeated homestand that saw their lead in the AL West grow to 2.5 games over Houston and can increase to three games with a win Monday night. The players they traded for have been good additions to the team and Texas is playing their best baseball since early June. They hit their high-water mark of 20 games over .500 on Sunday, a mark they have not seen since they were 40-20. Not all the news is good as Josh Jung suffered a thumb fracture during the game this afternoon.

It was on that play when it happened. It was a 109 mph line drive off the bat of Jorge Soler that clanked off his glove, but he still completed the double play. He was removed after a Josh Bell single and during the pitching change that removed Andrew Heaney from the game. He was showing Marcus Semien what happened when a trainer walked him off the field. It was initially diagnosed as a thumb contusion, but after x-rays were done it was changed to thumb fracture. Bruce Bochy had this to say in the postgame presser as reported by the Dallas Morning News,

"We had it x-rayed, he’s got a fractured left thumb there. That’s all I can give you right now. He’ll see a specialist, we’ll see where we’re at, what needs to be done, whatever. We just don’t know yet"

Texas Rangers Manager Bruce Bochy

There are a lot of implications to this injury. I want to take a look at three areas, the potential timeline for a return, who will fill in at third base, and how will the lineup change in the absence of Josh Jung?

When should we expect Josh Jung to return?

I think we need to first look at how much of the season we have left before we talk about when he might return. The Rangers today played their 112th game of the season. They only have 50 games to go before the end of the regular season. The last day of the regular season is less than eight weeks away. This is normally a four to six week injury, but could be as long as two months.

Jose Altuve suffered a thumb fracture during the World Baseball Classic on March 19th of this season and did not return till May 19th. There are other cases like the Tampa Bay Rays right-fielder Harold Ramirez who suffered a thumb fracture in 2022. He suffered the injury on July 18th of last season and returned on August 16th of the 2022 season.

If the injury is of the two-month variety then Jung is probably out through the ALDS with a potential return in time for the ALCS if the Rangers make it that far. The issue is that he will have not faced live pitching in two months and there will be no way to go on a rehab assignment since the minor league seasons will have ended by that point. He would probably be sent to Arizona to face instructional league pitching and get his at-bats there. The hope has to be that it is more the four to six-week range that will have him return before the end of the season and get a tuneup before the postseason starts.

Who fills in for Josh Jung?

The Rangers have depth in middle infielders, they do not have a specific third-base prospect that is close to being ready to contribute. The position players on the 40-man roster that are in the minors are Dustin Harris, Bubba Thompson, and Jonathan Ornelas. Harris plays mainly just first base and left field and so he is not an option to help at third. Bubba Thompson is an outfielder exclusively, but he has plenty of major league experience since making his debut a year ago. The final option is Jonathan Ornelas.

Ornelas has played in four games at third this season and has not committed an error. Going back to 2018 when he was drafted, Ornelas has played in 75 games total at third and has accumulated 10 errors in those 75 games. He has been a great defender wherever he has been placed whether it be third, short, second, or center field. This came out from Fansided's own Robert Murray tonight on the site formerly known as Twitter.

Ornelas was drafted in the third round in the 2018 draft out of Glendale, Arizona. He has spent all of this season playing for Round Rock after being placed on the 40-man roster this past offseason. He has a .250 batting average, with five home runs, 39 RBIs, and nine stolen bases. July was his best month of the season as he had a .304 batting average for the month. He will likely join Josh Smith, Sam Huff, and Austin Hedges on the bench.

I would fully expect to see Ezequiel Duran get the majority of the playing time at third in Jung's absence. He played third a lot in 2022 and it is a way to get his bat in the lineup on a daily basis. Josh Smith will then fill in for Seager if he needs days off at short as he is still recovering from a sprained thumb. Duran has not been playing well since the break, but his versatility and offensive ability will come in handy as the team tries to survive losing another all-star for an extended period of time.

What does the Jung injury do to the lineup?

This is where Jung's absence is likely to be felt the most. He has been a reliable number three and five-hitter in the lineup. He is leading all rookies in home runs. Now the lineup will be missing both Jung and Jonah Heim. Those two were the normal five and six hitters for Bochy. I would expect the top four to remain the same. This will probably move Duran from eight in the lineup to five. Then Garver at six, Grossman at seven, Jankowski at eight, and Taveras at nine.

The lineup will no doubt be affected. This will put more pressure on the top four to carry the load for Texas. The production from five through nine is likely to be inconsistent. It will be up to the bottom five to have good at-bats and pass the baton to the next batter. This team has done well with the next-man-up philosophy. This will be as big of a test as the team faced when Seager went down with the hamstring injury and missed a month.

Some optimism though as the Rangers now head to league-worst Oakland to play the A's in a 3-game series while Houston is in Baltimore to play the team with the best record in the American League. The schedule for the remainder of the month is road-heavy especially out west, but it is not overtly difficult. If they play well they should be able to hold on to the division lead through the rest of the month.

The message to the team has to be that everyone has to step up in Jung's absence. That means good at-bats, taking the extra base when it is there, getting timely hits, and playing the great defense they have played for much of this season. They can survive their star rookie and hopefully will get Jung back before the end of the regular season.