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Kiner-Falefa, Mathis splitting catching duties

Minor proving to be stingy with runners in scoring position
@Sullivan_Ranger
May 26, 2019

ANAHEIM -- The Rangers played their 50th game on Sunday and Isiah Kiner-Falefa started for the 25th time, equaling the number made by fellow catcher Jeff Mathis. Manager Chris Woodward said the even split has just worked out that way, but it does reflect his twin goals for the catching

ANAHEIM -- The Rangers played their 50th game on Sunday and Isiah Kiner-Falefa started for the 25th time, equaling the number made by fellow catcher Jeff Mathis. Manager Chris Woodward said the even split has just worked out that way, but it does reflect his twin goals for the catching position.

Mathis, 36, is in his 15th year in the big leagues and hasn’t started more than 80 games in a season since 2008. Kiner-Falefa is in his second season in the Majors and has caught a total of 135 games -- including the Minor Leagues -- since taking up the position as a novice in 2016. This is the first season in which he has been used exclusively at catcher.

“At this point, yeah, they both bring different value in the game,” Woodward said. “I’m really proud of Kiner. For having basically no experience catching, he has taken a lot on to be able to handle the responsibilities that we are demanding. It’s a testament to how hard he is working.”

Woodward said the subject came up in a conversation with bench coach Don Wakamatsu, who is a former catcher.

“You have no idea how far he is to where he should be at this point,” Wakamatsu told Woodward. “For a guy who has caught as little as he has, he shouldn’t be as far along as he is.”

Mathis is only hitting .160, but Woodward said his leadership has been invaluable to Kiner-Falefa and the pitching staff.

“I don’t want to burn out either one physically or mentally,” Woodward said. “Mathis with the physical part, he’s a little bit older, and Kiner, the mental part, being young. They are both doing a heckuva job, especially with the early struggles of our pitching staff, to kind of withstand that and keep that going. We’ve gotten a lot of quality innings from our pitching staff.”

Woodward is still trying to steer clear of having one catcher work exclusively with one pitcher. Though Mathis has been behind the plate for 10 of Mike Minor’s 11 starts, while Kiner-Falefa has caught seven of Lance Lynn’s 10 starts.

“I know Minor has thrown to Mathis [in] all but one [start],” Woodward said. “I try not to, because if something happens to Mathis, obviously somebody else will have to catch him. Minor has [had] a great year, so I don’t want to get in the way of anything they have going. ... As much as I don’t want personal catchers, I understand there is some comfort level there. I’ll try to help that out, but I don’t want to just say, ‘You’re only catching him.’ We have to be able to adjust.”

Minor tough in the clutch

Minor allowed just one run in six innings on Saturday, and that one came on a home run by Kole Calhoun.

Through 11 starts, Minor has held opponents to a .209 batting average with runners in scoring position, which is good for 14th in the American League. Opponents are 2-for-19 off him with runners in scoring position and two outs.

“He’s really reminding me of the great pitchers I have played with or coached,” Woodward said. “When the heat gets on, he gets better. It’s pretty impressive. He somehow gets better in those situations. Makes a couple of mistakes, they get a couple of hits. … He executes pitches and [is] able to get out of it. He has been doing that all year. He trusts he can make good pitches when he has to. That’s the mark of a really good pitcher.”

Rangers beat

• Lynn starts on Monday, but the team is undecided for Tuesday and Wednesday. Right-hander Adrian Sampson is scheduled for Tuesday and Drew Smyly for Wednesday, but the Rangers are mulling the possibility of using an opener in both games. They have used an opener in each of the last two games Sampson has pitched.

• After Rougned Odor’s pinch-hit RBI single on Saturday night, Rangers pinch-hitters are 8-for-21 (.381) with three home runs and 12 RBIs this season. They were 13-for-70 (.186) with two home runs and 11 RBIs all of last season. Texas pinch-hitters haven’t had 12 RBIs in a season since they had 14 in 124 at-bats in 2013.

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.