Forget what the four-game losing streak the Texas Rangers rode into Friday had done to the pitching staff’s ERA. Catcher Robinson Chirinos, behind the plate for three of the losses, hasn’t fared well numbers-wise, either.
His catcher’s ERA a week ago was a nifty 2.17, and his won-loss record as a starter was 10-2. But three not-so-pretty games, resulting in 19 runs, has made Chirinos look like less of a miracle worker with an ERA that had jumped to 3.00.
But he was behind the plate when the Rangers had last won a game, April 26, and he was back in the original lineup Friday as Colby Lewis took on the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in a late game that opened a three-game weekend series at Angel Stadium.
Chirinos, though, had no defense for a stomach bug that forced him out and J.P. Arencibia in.
Chirinos, when well, remains the Rangers’ primary catcher until Geovany Soto returns from knee surgery. That isn’t happening until July, but the Rangers are comfortable with Chirinos and pleased with his development.
The key has been communication. Chirinos is no Ronald Reagan, but he has become a great communicator with the pitchers as he tries to get them, and himself, through games.
“I want to help the team win and help the pitcher try to be the best he can be,” Chirinos said. “For me, the key is just communicate. That’s what I’m trying to do, communicate and make the pitcher feel comfortable.”
Pitchers agree that Chirinos, essentially a first-year player at age 28, isn’t short on words. He isn’t telling them what to do before and during games but is engaging them in a give-and-take to make sure that he knows what they are thinking.
No matter the pitcher, whether it’s a first-time starter like Robbie Ross or more established starters like Matt Harrison and Yu Darvish, he relies on his catcher and needs him to be on the same page.
“For sure,” Ross said. “When you get in a jam and a guy like Robinson is sitting there thinking the same thing you are — you’re in a jam and trying to get out of it as best you can. What pitch can we throw to get a ground ball? What pitch can we throw to get a strikeout?”
Chirinos credits catching instructor Bengie Molina, a former Gold Glove winner, for helping him maintain the focus needed to get through a game. There are no breaks, no time to drop his guard, regardless of the score.
“Bengie’s helping me a lot,” Chirinos said. “It’s easy to get away one inning and relax your mind. He’s like, ‘Hey, stay on top of the game. Let’s go.’ That’s helped me a lot.”
Chirinos’ development as a catcher and his knack for the occasional meaningful hit has pushed him ahead of Arencibia in the pecking order. Arencibia entered Friday only 4-8 with a 6.12 catcher’s ERA, and the Rangers hadn’t won a game that he had started since April 17.
He was also batting only .086, which made Chirinos’ .232 mark feel like he’s Johnny Bench. He’s not, as manager Ron Washington was quick to remind, but the Rangers aren’t counting on offense from that spot.
Defense comes first, and Washington believes Chirinos is doing just fine.
“Behind the plate, I have no issues with him,” Washington said. “He’s developed tremendously back there. He’s calls a good game; he blocks, he throws, and he’s got energy.”
Chirinos also communicates, and Rangers pitchers welcome that and appreciate the work he puts in each game.
“From what I’ve seen, he’s a student of the game,” said Harrison, who was paired with Chirinos on Sunday for his 2014 debut. “You want to be on the same page. He’s not telling anyone what to do. It’s more of a discussion. If he sees something that works, it’s good to have another set of eyes.”