ARLINGTON -- Robinson Chirinos is set to be the Rangers' Opening Day catcher.
Chirinos' sprained right ankle is close to 100 percent, and he is hoping to catch during Tuesday’s exhibition against the Rockies and be ready for Opening Day against Colorado on Friday.
“I feel confident,” Chirinos said. “The ankle keeps responding the way it has the last two or three days. I feel positive I will be behind the plate for Friday.
The Rangers will still carry three catchers on the Opening Day roster, with Jose Trevino and Jeff Mathis backing up Chirinos. A fourth catcher could be a possibility on the three-man taxi squad.
Chirinos was signed in the offseason because the Rangers wanted more offense from the position. Texas catchers combined to hit .193 last season, the second lowest in MLB. Their .298 slugging percentage was the lowest.
Chirinos played in 114 games with the Astros last season, and he hit .238/.347/.443 with 17 home runs and 58 RBIs.
Chirinos isn’t going to play in every game, so the challenge is to decide who the No. 2 catcher will be and how much playing time he will get.
“It's tough, because Robby is a guy you can put out there maybe more than most and you want his bat in the lineup,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. “It's going to be tough to balance all of that. We've got two guys in Jeff and Jose who are fairly selfless individuals and will be ready when called upon. But that's a challenge I have, to get them all in the lineup consistently, which is impossible.”
The Rangers still have high regard for Mathis’ defensive abilities. But Trevino, who played in 40 games as a rookie last season, continues to improve in all areas of the game and offers some offensive potential.
“From a catching standpoint, we always knew he had those qualities,” Woodward said. “He's a really good receiver, a really good leader, gets pitchers to buy into what he's buying. So from a catching standpoint, he's always been pretty elite in our mind.
“What I've seen as the biggest difference is the bat. The swing changes he's made, the commitment to his work and being able to handle all of that is tough for a catcher, especially a young catcher. I'm actually very, very optimistic in his performance this year. I've been dying to get him in there. I don’t want our starting catcher to go down, but I feel pretty comfortable that Jose can fill in and do a good job for us.”
Mathis had a drop-off in his catching last season, but overall, he has enjoyed an excellent reputation during his career. In 2018, he was plus 11 runs in pitch-framing, the best in the Majors. His 55 percent rate on getting borderline pitches called a strike in '18 was also the best in MLB.
Mathis also had 20 defensive runs saved in 2018 before slipping to minus-1 last season. Part of that was the Rangers making Mathis their No. 1 catcher rather than at least equally sharing the position.
The point is Mathis has premium defensive abilities that the Rangers still value, even though he hit .158/.209/.224 at the plate. That is why he will be one of three catchers on the Opening Day roster.
“I think he has made a lot of adjustments with the bat,” Woodward said. “I would expect to have more production from the bat this year. Defense is why we signed him -- we needed that and valued that. He is carrying the torch for Trevino and a lot of our other catchers. That experience is valuable.”
Trevino has a chance to be the Rangers' catcher of the future, although Sam Huff, the club's No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline, is progressing rapidly behind him. Mathis is a free agent after this season, while Chirinos signed a one-year contract with a $6.5 million option for next season.
“I think the relationship with Jeff and Jose and myself is really special,” Chirinos said. “It’s not about us, it’s about the team. We can learn from each other and help each other out. That’s what we have been doing since Spring Training. Not only the catching side, but the pitching side.
“Jeff asks me questions, Jose asks me questions: What do I see behind the plate? I do the same thing. Everything we do is for this pitching staff and organization, every single day. The closer we get and the more communication we have, the better we are going to be behind the plate.”