Willie Calhoun’s ‘do-more’ attitude augurs well for Yankees

Willie Calhoun is batting during the Yankees spring training camp.
Michael Bennington
Wednesday April 12, 2023

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CLEVELAND — California-born Willie Calhoun has not had a great MLB game to remember in 2022 and there won’t be many suitors for him before the Yankees got him on a non-roster deal. While he himself was not sure if he ever got a chance to play in the majors in pinstripes, he made his Yankees debut on Monday. It was a momentous occasion for him, but Willie Calhoun was far from being happy.

Maybe this do-more attitude helped Willie Calhoun on Tuesday. While the Yankees cruised to an 11-2 victory over the Guardians, he hit a bases-loaded single that scored the game-tying run.

The Monday musing of Willie Calhoun

Willie Calhoun had a great time in his first game with the Yankees. He likes being back in the big leagues after being at Triple-A the previous two seasons, and returning as a player for baseball’s most iconic team makes it even sweeter.

But he was mad at himself for not starting a rally in the ninth inning of a 3-2 loss to the Guardians on Monday. Even though his first at-bat was against hard-throwing right-hander Emmanuel Clase, who was possibly the best closer in the league, Willie Calhoun expected more from himself.

“Clase’s obviously really good, but I take pride in not striking out, so I was upset with that,” Calhoun said.

The chubby 200-pound, 5-foot-6 player has always been a power hitter who seldom ever strikes out. Willie Calhoun was quite upset because he failed to get a hit.

Willie Calhoun hit fifth and was the DH. He hit two hard balls and went 1-for-4. His first batted ball was the fourth hardest of the night, a 108.7 mph lineout to second base against Guardians ace Shane Bieber in the first inning with two runners in scoring position and no outs. His first game mirrored what the Yankees observed throughout spring training and his week at Triple-A.

“I’ve been told my whole life that good hitters line out, so I’m going to just take that and hopefully those will start finding holes,” felt Willie Calhoun.

Two at-bats later, Willie Calhoun hit a double down the left-field line on a chest-high, outside corner cutter thrown by Bieber. His last turn at bat taught him the most that night.

In the ninth, with the Yankees down by one run, Clase came in and Willie Calhoun hit first. He has only one objective:

“Just grind together an at-bat and see something up,” Calhoun said.

The performance

Willie Calhoun took the first pitch low for ball one, and then he got three pitches in a row that were high in the strike zone. He missed the first two pitches, which were a 97 mph cutter and a 91 mph slider.

When Willie Calhoun was behind in the count, 1-2, he threw another high cutter, this time at 99 mph. He took a big swing, foul-tipped the ball, and Mike Zunino caught it for a strikeout. This was the start of a 1-2-3 inning in which Cleveland won the first game of the series.

“I’m going to strike out plenty more whether I like it or not, but I was wishing I was able to lead that inning off with a double,” Calhoun said.

Willie Calhoun, who was called up from Triple-A last Sunday, still had a good night.

“It was an unbelievable feeling getting out there for the first at-bat,” he said. “It was a lot of fun for first day other than we lost.”

Willie Calhoun’s power

Baseball Savant says that if Willie Calhoun hits the ball five feet to the right or left instead of right at Andres Gimenez, it would be a two-run single in his first at-bat with the Yankees, which would have been a .630 batting average.

Willie Calhoun, a non-roster player, made a strong push for an Opening Day roster spot throughout spring training as a non-roster player. He hit.295 with a homer and four RBI in 21 Grapefruit League games.

He was released and sent to Triple-A, where Willie Calhoun proceeded to rake for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He hit .333 with seven hits in 21 at-bats in five games.

Willie Calhoun was called up after third baseman Josh Donaldson went down with a hamstring issue last Sunday. He has .240 hits in 258 major-league games over seven seasons, yet he batted with star potential. Before being sidelined by injury for the following three seasons, he hit 269 with 21 home runs in 83 games with Texas in 2019.

His jaw was shattered during spring training in 2020 after being hit by a 95-mph fastball by Dodgers left-hander Julio Urias. When the COVID-shortened season started in July, he was healthy, but hamstring and oblique issues restricted him to 29 games. The next year, Calhoun shattered his left forearm on a 78-mph changeup thrown by Royals lefty Kris Bubic.

He fought with hamstring injuries last year while batting .264 in 63 Triple-A games for two clubs and hitting 136 hits and one home run in 22 big-league games, 18 with the Rangers and four with the Giants after a midseason trade.

Willie Calhoun has already earned it, and he’s wanting to stay with the Yankees. When Bader or Donaldson return, outfielder Aaron Hicks will most likely be designated for assignment. It frees up one place. With the other move, outfielder Franchy Cordero is the early choice to replace Calhoun, but further injuries might alter things.

As of now, Willie Calhoun is up for the task. The Yankees know he can bat.

What do you think? Leave your comment below.

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