Texas Rangers

Lack of offense this season has Mathis going batty. Rangers, though, still love his glove

No player is anywhere close to 100 percent at this time of a baseball season, Jeff Mathis said as he stood gingerly during an interview Sunday morning.

His lower back felt better than he was expecting it would, and he was able to sleep some despite the discomfort. Just give him Sunday and the Monday off day, he said, and then maybe he will be available Tuesday at Houston.

The wincing didn’t stop after Mathis provided a medical update. The next topic was how he feels about his season.

“I feel like you know the answer to that,” Mathis said before the Rangers’ 6-1 loss Sunday as Oakland completed a three-game sweep. “We’re not in the playoffs, No. 1, and No. 2, the offense speaks for itself.”

Yeah, it does, but the Rangers didn’t sign Mathis to hit like Mike Piazza did as a catcher. Or even Robinson Chirinos.

They signed Mathis to a two-year contract to improve the pitching staff with his game-calling and overall defense, and to help nurture young catchers on the cusp of the major leagues.

To that end, Mathis has met expectations, if not exceeded them.

And he will be back, this season and next.

“I would definitely speak up if they were thinking about not bringing him back,” manager Chris Woodward said. “I would speak against that because what he means to the clubhouse is a lot.”

There has been no indication that the front office is considering parting ways with Mathis, though he might be looking at a more reduced role in 2020. Mathis has caught 86 games this season, his most since 91 in 2011.

Fewer games might actually help him offensively, Woodward said.

It wouldn’t take much, with Mathis batting .158 with two homers and a .433 OPS in 228 at-bats.

“It’s one of those years where he never got it going,” Woodward said. “Our expectations weren’t super high.”

Mathis had higher expectations at the plate, and his struggles have overshadowed what he’s done behind the plate.

“That’s something I was brought in here to do, but to be well-rounded and do a little bit more offensively,” he said. “That’s where the frustrations are coming from.”

Mathis gets high marks not just for his work with Mike Minor and Lance Lynn, who have been among baseball’s best starting pitchers, but every pitcher. Jose Trevino and Isiah-Kiner Falefa have learned from him and continue to do so.

The day after Trevino and Minor had trouble getting on the same page following Mathis’ early exit, Mathis dismissed the issue as something that happens from time to time and doesn’t foresee any lasting issues.

If something pops up, though, Mathis will be there -- the rest of this season and in 2020.

“What he’s done from behind the plate is, obviously, what we expected,” Woodward said. “He solidified the position, really worked well with our pitchers, game-planning and working hand in hand with our pitching coaches and analytics department.

“What he did in the clubhouse is so impactful. He means a lot to this ballclub. When he walks in the door everybody loves him and everybody respects him. Everybody calls him captain. Everybody loves Mathis.”

After 11 seasons covering the Rangers for the Star-Telegram, Jeff Wilson knows that baseball is a 24/7/365 business and there is far more to baseball than just the 162 games each season. There’s also more to Jeff -- like a family and impressive arsenals of Titleist hats and adidas shoes -- but sometimes it’s hard to tell.
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