Texas Rangers

Rangers Reaction: Kiner-Falefa's debut has been fun, but he won't unseat Odor

Isiah Kiner-Falefa has filled in admirably for Rougned Odor, but Odor isn't going to lose his starting job.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa has filled in admirably for Rougned Odor, but Odor isn't going to lose his starting job. mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

The Texas Rangers will hit the road Thursday on their off day and fly to Toronto to kick off a six-game trip that ends with three games in Cleveland, Monday through Wednesday.

Based on the first 26 games, that might not be a bad thing.

The Rangers have been terrible at home so far. They opened 3-12, the worst 15-game start in franchise history, and just avoided the worst 16-game start.

The road hasn't been clear of landmines, but the Rangers have played .500 ball in their first 10 road games and they haven't suffered any significant injuries away from Globe Life Park.

That's something.

Here's some Rangers Reaction from a 4-2 victory over the Oakland A's.

1. Isiah Kiner-Falefa saw his six-game hitting streak come to an end Tuesday, but it's safe to say that won't cure a segment of the Rangers fandom who have caught IKF fever.

A symptom of IKF fever is calling for him to remain the starter once Rougned Odor is healthy.

Kiner-Falefa has given more than could have been reasonably expected since being called up after Odor ripped his left hamstring and since becoming an everyday player after Elvis Andrus' right elbow was fractured.

The production is more than what Odor gave the Rangers in 11 games. Wednesday's game was Kiner Falefa's 14th but his 12th straight start, and he delivered a tiebreaking single in the fifth.

Kiner-Falefa showed he could play third base capably, one throw aside.

And that's great. It's a fun story. A feel-good story. He will always be able to tell the story of how he first broke into the major leagues, and he has the Rangers convinced that he can be a major-leaguer.

But Kiner-Falefa is not going to take over at second base after Odor is declared healthy and Adrian Beltre returns.

Ah, but should he? No.

Odor's 2017 was fairly terrible (his spring wasn't much better). He wasn't an all-or-nothing hitter, as many like to say. He was a completely lost hitter who still managed to stumble into 30 home runs.

He made 19 errors last season, and that was an improvement over the 22 he made in 2016. For those who call him a hack with the glove, the Rangers have analytics that say otherwise and their eyes tell them otherwise.

People see all the bad stuff, but not the flip side: There's room for him to improve.

Odor just turned 24, for crying out loud, and is far from a finished player. He has upside that Kiner-Falefa just doesn't have.

Odor also has a sizable contract that Kiner-Falefa doesn't have, and the Rangers are stuck with it. So, they're going to give Odor the opportunity to meet or exceed the value of his contract before punting him to the bench and to another team.

If the fans who have IKF fever want the best for the Rangers, they should want Odor to be the starting second baseman.

2. Matt Bush drew the short straw when the Rangers needed a roster spot for Doug Fister.

Bush was optioned to Triple A Round Rock, where he must spend 10 days unless recalled because of an injury. The way the Rangers are going, that's not inconceivable.

When informed that Bush had been sent out, one Rangers player was stunned. He said the news gave him goosebumps.

Bush had already checked out of the clubhouse before the media arrived, but was probably in a state of shock, too.

Granted, Bush had pitched four straight days and has minor-league options. But with Thursday's off day, the Rangers probably could have gotten by Wednesday with him getting rested up in the bullpen.

So, there's more to it than just Bush not being available. Manager Jeff Banister said that the Rangers identified a couple things Bush needs to work on, like being more consistent throwing strikes.

Indeed, nine walks in 11 1/3 innings are concerning. Bush's seventh-inning walk to pinch-hitter Matt Joyce on Tuesday after being up in the count extended the inning and allowed Oakland to break a 1-1 tie.

A pitcher's command, though, often gets worse when pitching on consecutive days, not to mention four straight days. The Rangers had said that they wanted to avoid using anyone on three straight days this early in the season.

Bush was supposed to be a reliever who would give the Rangers multiple innings, especially after getting a look in spring training at being starter. But he has pitched more than an inning only twice in 13 games and not once in the past two weeks.

When Bush has pitched and has thrown strikes, opponents are batting only .195 against him. Even with walks, Bush has been one of the Rangers' better relievers.

Think about it: If he had things that needed work to the point that he needed to go to the minors, would the Rangers have used him four straight days in high-leverage situations?

Maybe that's why one player was so shocked he had goose bumps upon hearing the news that Bush had been optioned.

3. For a night, for one baseball game, everything went as right as it could for this group of Rangers.

No one appeared to get hurt.

Doug Fister wasn't great but wasn't awful, and he is no longer hurt.

"I felt great," said Fister, who lasted only 4 2/3 innings. "Definitely positive. The No. 1 positive is we won as a team."

Joey Gallo had three hits, all of them singles. One of them was a bunt hit to beat an infield shift.

"Joey had a nice game," Banister said. "It was one that I think goes a long way for him, too."

The bullpen, for the first time all homestand, was terrific.

''We needed it tremendously," said Keone Kela, who blew away the A's in the ninth for his fourth save.

The latter was the biggest development, in particular the scoreless inning thrown by Alex Claudio. The left-hander, the reigning Rangers Pitcher of the Year, has been struggling to start the season.

That's not to say he hasn't had scoreless outings. He has. But opponents seem to have figured him out, either the by-product of seeing him so often the past two seasons or poor pitch execution or both.

Banister said that the league has made an adjustment to the soft-tossing Claudio, though right-handers have never had much problem with him. Nevertheless, all hitters were having too much success.

So, it's up to Claudio to "punch back," as Banister likes to say. Perhaps his perfect inning Wednesday was the first jab.

"Claudio, that should be a nice little boost for him," Banister said.

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