The Rangers were swept for the second time this season, falling 8-4 to the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on Sunday afternoon, but Isiah Kiner-Falefa was a silver lining in Texas’ rough day, going 3-for-5 in his new spot as the two-hole hitter.
It was a consistent series against Chicago for Kiner-Falefa, as the shortstop went 7-for-14 across three games. He was bumped from the leadoff spot in the opener and the finale by designated hitter Willie Calhoun.
“He's just staying with what he does well,” said manager Chris Woodward. “He’s got such good hand-eye coordination and bat-to-ball. I think he was hitting balls hard in that [0-for-19] stretch and at times and was getting out. So now you're starting to see those line drives are falling. That's what he expects.
Kiner-Falefa snapped an 0-for-19 skid on April 20 in a loss to the Angels and has had at least one hit in every game since, including another three-hit night on Friday against the White Sox.
Woodward said that Kiner-Falefa puts the ball in play so much that he’s never going to slump for long.
“He's always in the at-bat. It doesn't matter how hard you throw or what pitch you use, honestly, he'll give himself a chance,” Woodward said. “I think it's confidence, too, at the same time. I think he just got a couple of hits and he took a deep breath and had a little sigh of relief and said, ‘OK, I can still hit.’”
Chicago rookie pitcher Michael Kopech mowed down the Rangers’ lineup, tallying 10 strikeouts through five innings, and Kiner-Falefa was the only Texas batter with a hit the first time through the order. Kiner-Falefa, Nick Solak and David Dahl -- whose solo homer put Texas on the board in the second inning -- were the only ones to get hits against Kopech, while Kiner-Falefa was the only Rangers hitter to not strike out against him.
Woodward called Kopech “effectively wild,” saying that he was missing in the zone and hitting the corners, sometimes unintentionally, for a lot of the Rangers' strikeouts.
“Kopech is nasty, like he's just got good stuff,” Woodward said. “He’s got a really, really good upper-90s fastball, it was a really good slider. The fastball is elite -- not only the velo, but just the characteristics of it, the vertical on it is a pretty elite pitch.
“From a staff standpoint, there's not too many guys that have better stuff. It's a little bit like [Tyler] Glasnow in that regard, especially the fastball. So, it's tough in cold weather to get on top of that, and he was obviously really effective.”
The Rangers put up a three-run sixth inning, but were unable to complete the comeback against the White Sox. After Chicago took an early lead over Rangers starter Kohei Arihara, it was hard to stop the momentum. They didn’t score any runs after the third inning, Arihara’s last one, but it was enough to seal the win.
“When you're standing around and it's cold out there, it's really tough to kind of find any rhythm,” Woodward said. “It's difficult to stop the bleeding, obviously, and that's why it is so important to preach heavily, not just on the pitching side, to get outs and keep everybody engaged to keep our defense flowing at the same time.”