Texas Rangers

How drastically will Beltre's return cut into Kiner-Falefa's playing time?

Isiah Kiner-Falefa went 18 straight games at third base without an error until making one Monday at Seattle.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa went 18 straight games at third base without an error until making one Monday at Seattle. rmallison@star-telegram.com

Nothing is wrong with Adrian Beltre, though those who saw him start Thursday at designated hitter and then tuned in Friday night to see him back on the Texas Rangers' bench might have been alarmed.

But the day off in the opener of a three-game series against the Los Angeles Angels was planned before he came off the 10-day disabled list. The Rangers, with Beltre's reluctant acceptance, are taking it slow with the 21-year veteran.

That's good news for the growing legion in the Isiah Kiner-Falefa Fan Club.

The caution with Beltre is keeping his replacement in the lineup rather than putting him on the bench or on a one-way trip to Triple A Round Rock. Kiner-Falefa isn't going anywhere while the Rangers coddle Beltre for the next 10 days to two weeks

The rookie might not be in the lineup when Beltre does plays third base, as he is expected to do Saturday, but Kiner-Falefa won't become affixed to the bench.

As he approaches the two-month anniversary of the initial call-up of his major-league career, Kiner-Falefa has earned his way into the mix until the Rangers take the kids gloves off Beltre and also, perhaps simultaneously, reinstate shortstop Elvis Andrus.

Wherever Kiner-Falefa ends up the next 10 days or so — be it at third, second base, shortstop or maybe even left field — he will be ready.

"I'm used to it," he said. "In the minor leagues I bounced all over the place. I moved around a lot, so I kind of got the feel and a routine of how to prepare myself. It helps a lot. For the last two years that's all I've been doing. It's actually weird to me that I've been playing one position so long."

Kiner-Falefa made his 23rd start of the season at third base behind Bartolo Colon in a late game at Angel Stadium. It was Kiner-Falefa's 12th straight start and 17th in the past 18 games, and he started 15 of the 16 games Beltre missed during his second DL stint of the season.

The defense has been spectacular at times and solid overall.

He had an 18-game errorless streak at third base snapped Monday at Seattle, and his throwing error Thursday after a terrific diving stop allowed the Mariners to score an unearned run.

But the good plays have far outweighed the bad, and Kiner-Falefa has also carried his weight at the plate. He entered Friday as the American League rookie leader in walks (15), was second in runs (21) and third in hits (40).

"The first day Adrian plays third base will probably be an opportunity to Kiner a day, because he's been going pretty hard at it, too," manager Jeff Banister said. "I don't see that being an extended period of time."

Kiner-Falefa is one of the many versatile players the Rangers have on their roster, which is helping make life easier on Banister as he deals with giving Beltre games at DH without losing Shin-Soo Choo's bat.

Choo could end up playing left field, which he hasn't played since 2014. So could Nomar Mazara, who has played their each of the past three seasons. Joey Gallo would shift to first base, unseating another rookie who has exceeded expectations, Ronald Guzman.

"We have a lot of guys who can play different positions," Beltre said. "We have a lot of guys who are good athletes. Obviously, in the situation I'm in now where I'm going to DH, some moves are going to be made. We'll see how the manager wants to handle it. I'll be happy with whatever they decide they want me to do."

Banister has made one decision: Kiner-Falefa isn't going to be a bench player as Beltre builds to the point of playing third base every day again.

"I would think that early on Kiner will get a lot of time at third base," Banister said. "That depends on how it gets divided up and also depends on how Adrian continues to progress."

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