Game 19 of the Texas Rangers’ global baseball hostage stand-off ended with a rare walk-off victory Wednesday afternoon.
Rare because the 12-11 win over the Cleveland Indians was only the Rangers’ sixth of the spring. And you can make a valid argument that there’s a reason for that.
Eight Rangers are missing from this spring training camp. They’ve gone to represent their countries at the World Baseball Classic.
No Major League team has contributed as many as eight players from its 40-man roster.
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And while both general manager Jon Daniels and manager Jeff Banister have been saying the right things, telling the media that they enjoy the passion and the goodwill behind the WBC, the divot left by the Rangers Eight has been tripping up the MLB team almost daily.
The Rangers, in particular, have been without the services of not one, but their two best catchers, Jonathan Lucroy (Team USA) and Robinson Chirinos (Venezuela).
Their absences have opened the doors for a variety of call-ups and spring invitees, but this is a festering problem.
Catchers catch pitchers in spring training — preferably their pitchers, not Team Israel’s. And just as importantly, catchers can be an invaluable resource as the coaching staff nurtures the staff towards Opening Day.
Rangers pitching coach Doug Brocail would have liked to have been able to ask Lucroy and Chirinos how they thought Cole Hamels and Nick Martinez threw Wednesday afternoon. (Hamels worked against minor leaguers, while Martinez was bombarded by rockets from the Indians.)
But A.J. Jimenez was behind the plate for Martinez, spelled later by 33-year-old journeyman Brett Hayes.
Brocail admitted there is a problem.
“Yeah, it affects us because our guys aren’t watching the guys we’re trying to make decisions on,” he said. “Plus, not taking away from anybody else, being older and having the experience [Lucroy and Chirinos] have, they can help us make our decisions based on what they’re seeing from that end versus what we’re seeing from our vantage point.
“They know if a guy is being committed with his pitches more than we do. So having that lack of communication with them kinda hurts.”
Besides the catchers, the Rangers have loaned the WBC third baseman Adrian Beltre (Dominican Republic), reliever Alex Claudio (Puerto Rico), reliever Sam Dyson (USA), second baseman Rougned Odor and pitcher Martin Perez (both Venezuela) and utility man Jurickson Profar, who’s been starring for the Netherlands team.
That’s a huge hit for a franchise that used the top rung of its farm system to trade for pennant help the past two seasons. At best, the late-inning reinforcements in the Cactus League games have provided modest help, or simply been too young.
Brocail is responsible for making the pitchers’ daily schedules.
“Oh, I am so against the WBC,” he confessed. “I have pitchers that aren’t throwing that I thought were going to throw. I’ve got to build them up. And there’s a possibility of having some guys gone till the very end of the tournament.”
Brocail was referring to Claudio and Dyson being lightly used by their respective teams.
“Are we the most?” Brocail asked Wednesday.
“I think we are. It stinks. I hate it.
“The thing is, it’s vital to have your catching crew. They’re the quarterbacks out there. We leave a lot in their hands.”
Until the catchers’ teams bow out of the tournament, those hands are tied.