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Rangers' hyphenated battery powers sweep

Bibens-Dirkx goes 6 2/3 strong in Kiner-Falefa's 1st start as catcher
MLB.com @Sullivan_Ranger

KANSAS CITY -- Just a few years ago, Austin Bibens-Dirkx was pitching in an independent league and Isiah Kiner-Falefa was trying to keep his fading prospect status alive by attempting to become a catcher for the first time in his life.

The odds they would one day become the first hyphenated battery in Major League history were astronomical, but there they were together on Wednesday night against the Royals on Kauffman Stadium.

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KANSAS CITY -- Just a few years ago, Austin Bibens-Dirkx was pitching in an independent league and Isiah Kiner-Falefa was trying to keep his fading prospect status alive by attempting to become a catcher for the first time in his life.

The odds they would one day become the first hyphenated battery in Major League history were astronomical, but there they were together on Wednesday night against the Royals on Kauffman Stadium.

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They turned out to be a winning pair as Bibens-Dirkx allowed just one run over 6 2/3 innings and the Rangers concluded a three-game sweep with a 3-2 victory. They have won five straight overall while the Royals have lost nine in a row.

This was Bibens-Dirkx's ninth Major League start and third this year. But this was Kiner-Falefa's first start as a catcher in the big leagues.

"It just feels great," Kiner-Falefa said. "It was more of a team win to get the sweep here. This takes a lot of nerves off of my chest. I was really nervous before the game, but after the first inning, I felt better. I thought our pitchers threw the ball well. Bibbs did a great job."

Bibens-Dirkx wasn't in the game at the end, but Kiner-Falefa threw out Hunter Dozier trying to steal second with two outs in the ninth to end the game, just missing reliever Jake Diekman with his throw.

Video: TEX@KC: Kiner-Falefa nabs Dozier to lock down the win

"That was close," Kiner-Falefa said. "I didn't know what to say. I was kind of in shock that he was out and I was kind of in shock that it -- I'm just glad that it didn't hit him, honestly. That was -- I tried to adjust my throw last-second, so I kind of bounced it, but that was close."

According to Elias, Kiner-Falefa is the first catcher to throw out a runner stealing to end the game in his first Major League start since such records started being kept in 1951.

"It was really exciting," manager Jeff Banister said. "For Kiner to be behind the plate and his first Major League start, to throw a guy out to end the game, it was incredible to watch. Start with Austin, he did a great job. First-pitch strikes were the key to him, fastball-changeup combo, fastball-slider combo were really effective. Never repeated location with the fastball. A lot of weak contact. Kiner-Falefa … really caught the ball well, received the ball well, had some tough blocks, really called a solid game, handled the pitching staff really well."

Bibens-Dirkx, who was 0-1 with a 6.55 ERA in two previous starts for the Rangers, allowed five hits and a walk in outdueling Royals starter Jakob Junis. Bibens-Dirkx did not record a strikeout, but he benefited from solid defense, including a couple of nice plays by Jurickson Profar in his third start of the year at third base. Bibens-Dirkx also threw 55 of his 81 pitches for strikes.

Video: TEX@KC: Profar lays out to glove Perez's liner at 3rd

"Yeah, they're an aggressive team," Bibens-Dirkx said. "I knew that I would have to make some quality pitches. I think the last time I faced them, I made some quality pitches, and they still got hit, so I knew that I just had to stick with our game plan that Kiner and I put together before the game. I was able to do that, and Kiner did a heck of a job back there."

Even as little as a week ago, a pairing between Bibens-Dirkx and Kiner-Falefa seemed highly improbable. Bibens-Dirkx was in Triple-A and Kiner-Falefa had taken advantage of the high number of injuries in the Rangers' infield to carve out a niche as a utility player.

Video: TEX@KC: Bibens-Dirkx quickly breaks to cover 1st base

But Carlos Perez's sprained ankle swayed the Rangers to commit to Kiner-Falefa as the backup catcher and rookie pitcher Yohander Mendez's transgressions earlier this week got him scratched from Wednesday's start. Bibens-Dirkx was summoned to replace him and that's how he hooked up with Kiner-Falefa to face the Royals.

"Yeah, he called a heck of a game," Bibens-Dirkx said. "He did a really nice job back there. I think I threw to him in [Spring Training], so it wasn't completely new, so I think that helped out a lot. He knew what I like to do, and -- yeah, like I said, he called a heck of a game, and did really well back there. It's really nice. After the first two [starts] didn't quite go as I wanted, so to get an opportunity to do what I feel like I can do on a pretty consistent basis was nice."

MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Dozier drove in Alex Gordon from first on a one-out double in the Royals' half of the second inning. But the Rangers cut down Dozier trying for a triple with outfielder Carlos Tocci and shortstop Elvis Andrus making the on-target relay throws.

Video: TEX@KC: Tocci, Andrus make throws to nab Dozier

SOUND SMART
Shin-Soo Choo had a leadoff single in the first inning to extend his on-base streak to 34 straight games. He ended up scoring the game's first run. Choo stole second, went to third on Andrus' high chopper back to Junis and scored on Nomar Mazara's sacrifice fly.

Video: TEX@KC: Mazara brings home Choo with sac fly in 1st

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
One day after being benched, Rougned Odor returned to the lineup and hit his second home run of the season to make it a 3-1 game in the sixth. Odor's first home run was on May 21.

Video: TEX@KC: Odor hammers towering solo homer to right

HE SAID IT
"I was shocked the ball was thrown. I didn't think he was going. It was my bad. I've got to get out of the way. End of the game. It didn't hit me, so it was good." -- Diekman, on the final play of the game

UP NEXT
Left-hander Mike Minor will be on the mound when the Rangers open a three-game series with the Twins at 7:10 p.m. CT on Friday at Target Field. Minor allowed two runs over seven innings in his last outing against the Rockies on Saturday and he is 1-3 with a 6.18 ERA in his past seven starts. Center fielder Delino DeShields and catcher Robinson Chirinos are expected to be back in the lineup after not starting on Wednesday. DeShields is hitting .400 (12-for-30) against the Twins while Chirinos is hitting .364 (16-for-44) against them. Right-hander Fernando Romero is scheduled to start for Minnesota.

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.

Texas Rangers, Austin Bibens-Dirkx, Shin-Soo Choo, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Rougned Odor