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Chirinos ready for busy camp as No. 1 catcher

Veteran expected to make 3rd Opening Day start after backing up in 2017
MLB.com @Sullivan_Ranger

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Robinson Chirinos has worked his way back to being the Rangers' No. 1 catcher. Now he has a bigger job.

Chirinos needs to take command of Texas' pitching staff, earn the trust of his pitchers and forge a working relationship that will help them get through games. Catchers can impact games with their offense and defense, but pitch-calling and the pitcher-catcher relationships take priority.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Robinson Chirinos has worked his way back to being the Rangers' No. 1 catcher. Now he has a bigger job.

Chirinos needs to take command of Texas' pitching staff, earn the trust of his pitchers and forge a working relationship that will help them get through games. Catchers can impact games with their offense and defense, but pitch-calling and the pitcher-catcher relationships take priority.

"We have talked about this many times," Chirinos said. "Most of the games are going to be won by pitching. For us, we need to be consistent, and the only way we can do that is by throwing strikes. That's the goal for myself, for everybody on the staff: Work fast, get quick outs and give the offense a chance to score runs."

Chirinos has a sizable task ahead. The Rangers finished last season with a team ERA of 4.66 that was the fifth highest in the American League. They also issued the third-most most walks. Because of all that, Texas reworked its pitching staff. Matt Moore, Doug Fister, Mike Minor, Bartolo Colon, Jonathon Niese, Jesse Chavez and Chris Martin are foremost among the new pitchers Chirinos will have to bond with this spring.

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"Just communicate," Chirinos said. "I try to communicate with most of the guys on the club as best I can in the clubhouse, off the field, during the game between innings ... build that relationship and build that trust in having me behind the plate."

Chirinos is not without offensive attributes. He finished last season with 17 home runs, and his .866 slugging percentage was 25th best among 174 AL players with at least 200 plate appearances. It ranked third among AL catchers.

Defensively, Chirinos threw out 24.6 percent of attempted basestealers, 13th among 19 AL catchers with at least 70 games caught. According to Statcast™, his maximum effort arm strength on steals was 80.7 mph. That ranked 39th out of 51 Major League catchers with at least 15 attempted steals against.

Video: TEX@LAA: Chirinos nabs Trout on overturned call

"Talent-wise, he is steady behind the plate," manager Jeff Banister said. "He has improved his receiving, and he blocks balls well. He has become a real student of advanced scouting reports, and that helps him call games."

The final step, Banister said, is working with the pitchers.

"He is really proud," Banister said. "He cares. He cares about his craft, and he knows his leadership is important to his team."

This will be the third time in four years that Chirinos will be the Opening Day catcher. He was there in 2015 and '16, but he had to step aside when the Rangers acquired All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy on Aug. 1, 2016. A year later, Lucroy was traded to the Rockies, and now Chirinos is No. 1 again.

"Obviously when we acquired Lucroy, it was for all the right reasons," Banister said. "Obviously there is definite pride in Chirinos. He had been the guy for us, and he showed great character to step aside and allow Lucroy to be the No. 1 guy. One of the things Robbie told me is, 'Skip, I'll be ready.'"

Banister said being able to watch, work with and learn from Lucroy helped out Chirinos.

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"But more than anything, Robbie is a self-learner and self-motivated," Banister said. "When we traded Lucroy, it freed up Robbie to relax and play."

The Rangers did not acquire a serious threat to Chirinos in the offseason. Brett Nicholas, who is also still learning the catching craft, is the leading candidate to be the backup. Veterans Michael Ohlman, Curt Casali and Juan Centeno -- acquired for catching depth -- are all defensive-minded catchers who can call games and work with pitchers.

The job belongs to Chirinos. The Rangers showed some foresight last spring by securing Chirinos to a contract through this season. They also have an option for next year, so Chirinos has extra motivation to get the job done.

"It's a big year for everybody," Chirinos said. "Not only myself. Just take advantage of the opportunity, stay healthy the whole year, play as many games as I can, and that other stuff will take care of itself. I have to do my job and help this team get back to the postseason. Whatever happens after that is going to happen."

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, Robinson Chirinos