Opponents have run wild on Rangers catchers, pitchers

One of the final plays of the Texas Rangers' extra-inning victory Saturday -- Jurickson Profar's go-ahead double -- overshadowed any other moment that night at Tropicana Field.

But one of the first plays of the game -- Tampa Bay leadoff man Sam Fuld was caught trying to steal second base -- rated as a significant sequence.

Rangers catchers had gone more than a month without throwing out a base stealer, a stretch that had reached 25 straight successes before Geovany Soto nailed Fuld.

The Rays started a new streak with two steals later in the game, leaving Rangers catchers only 13 for 111 this season.

Don't go blaming only Soto and Luis Martinez, the Rangers' active catchers, or the injured Mike Napoli or even the departed Yorvit Torrealba.

Catchers need a little help from the pitchers, which the pitchers fully understand.

A quick fix this late into the season, though, doesn't exist.

For now, as the stretch run intensifies and a possible return trip to the playoffs looms, the pitchers will do what they can to limit the running game, and the catchers will make the best throws they can.

Executing pitches, though, remains the top priority, even at the sacrifice of holding a runner close or shortening a delivery to the plate.

"You get a chance to throw out a runner, but we also want pitchers to be able to execute a pitch," said Napoli, who is expected to begin a rehab assignment tonight as Double A Frisco plays in the Texas League championship series.

"Some guys are a little slower, but it helps them execute a pitch better than being quick to home plate. You absolutely want a guy to execute a pitch. Then again, we don't want a guy to be in scoring position."

That's not to say that adjustments aren't being made now. Catching instructor Hector Ortiz Jr. spent the weekend in Tampa Bay, and worked with the catchers Saturday before the game.

It's no coincidence that Soto's first caught stealing since the Rangers acquired him July 30 came only hours after the session with Ortiz, who also helped clean up some of Napoli's woes shortly after the All-Star break.

"It was just doing stuff right," said Napoli, whose caught stealing Aug. 6 was the Rangers' last until Saturday. "He came into Seattle, and it was just a quick fix. A couple drills got me back to being where I needed to be."

Soto also got an assist from Yu Darvish, who has seen opponents steal 22 bases in 25 tries against him. But he was quick Saturday against a Rays team that leads the American League in stolen bases.

The two teams trailing the Rangers in the AL West standings, Oakland (sixth) and Anaheim (second) also like to run. Angels rookie Mike Trout leads the majors in stolen bases with 44, with five against the Rangers.

Derek Holland, who has picked off five runners but has seen only 3 of 12 base stealers thrown out, said the best way to combat teams that run is to vary his timing on the mound.

"You want to give the catchers a chance. Sometimes the runners are going to go off me. If I see them take off early, it's my job to get rid of the ball as quick as possible. At the same time, I don't want to give the hitter too good of a pitch."

Holland continued to say that a pitcher never wants a base runner 90 feet closer to scoring a run, and a stolen base alters a hitter's approach and thus the way a pitcher will work him.

The good news from the steals streak is that of the 25, only five led to a run being scored. While the pitchers might not have been holding the runners close, they were doing a good job with their No. 1 priority.

"The main thing is make sure you execute your pitches," manager Ron Washington said. "It's a concern, because you want to keep them out of scoring position, but we're certainly not at this point of the year having another spring training.

"We want our pitching staff to focus on the hitters, which has been good, and we have to work on our pitchers' moves in February, make it a priority."

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST

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