Maybe Ian Kinsler was taken out of context, and what he really said, if they’d just included the whole quote, was he hoped the Rangers didn’t win a game at home by actually recording the game’s final out. Texas finally nailed one of those down yesterday, not that the 1-0 victory offered up any more of a comfort level than your standard-issue walkoff win.
Especially when the final three outs had Alexi Ogando on the mound, throwing to catcher Robinson Chirinos and backed in the infield by Donnie Murphy at second, Josh Wilson at shortstop, and Kevin Kouzmanoff at third, and nine times out of 10, as long as we’re talking about a one-run game, you’d expect that to have featured a Surprise dateline, rather than Arlington.
The last time Ogando recorded a save was August 4, 2012, 16 days before which was the last time Colby Lewis pitched, and right there is a pair of streaks that will be snapped on back-to-back days, as Lewis gets the ball tonight against Seattle.
Lewis was part of a list I threw out there on December 4, 2012, running down a handful of players that Texas had managed during these winning years to go get at the exact right times in their careers — “players who were picked up just before they exploded, who came at a price that in retrospect seems absurdly light, [and] who reached their big league peaks (or a significant resurgence) here” like Mike Napoli, Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Lewis, Joe Nathan, David Murphy, Marlon Byrd, Darren O’Day, Milton Bradley, Darren Oliver, and Endy Chavez.
In 2013, you could add Neal Cotts to that list, closer to the front than the back.
This year, you can bet the Rangers envisioned that J.P. Arencibia, discarded by the Blue Jays, might be that guy (a candidate for something like the rejuvenation Boston got after picking Jarrod Saltalamacchia up from Texas on the cheap). But it may turn out that Arencibia gets unseated by a different change-of-scenery success for Texas, 29-year-old Robinson Chirinos.
A lifelong Cubs farmhand who signed out of Venezuela in 2000, the infielder didn’t hit at all but somehow managed to keep a job even though, going into the 2007 season, he hadn’t played his way out of Class A. That July, in his seventh stateside season, Chirinos was promoted to AA to play shortstop. He broke camp as a AA player in 2008, but earned a demotion back to High A in June.
It was during that return to Class A that the Cubs decided to take a look at Chirinos behind the plate. Not all the time — 18 of his 37 defensive appearances were at catcher — but it was working. In 2009, he was a catcher. And had his best season at the plate as well.
After the 2010 season, the Rangers and Cubs reportedly discussed a trade that would have sent Chris Davis to the Cubs for a package including Chirinos, who had split the year between AA and AAA and hit .326/.416/.583. The rumor was that the Rangers were attempting to land Chirinos just to flip him, with Derek Holland, Frankie Francisco, and Engel Beltre, to Tampa Bay for Matt Garza. Instead, the Cubs traded for Garza themselves, sending Chirinos to the Rays along with Chris Archer, Sam Fuld, Hak-Ju Lee, and Brandon Guyer.
Chirinos split 2011 between Tampa Bay and AAA Durham, didn’t hit a ton at either spot, and then he missed the entire 2012 season due to a spring training concussion he suffered when a foul tip struck him in the catcher’s mask. When he failed to win a big league job in camp in 2013 (getting only nine at-bats), the Rays — even though they had options left on the 28-year-old — designated him for assignment. The Rangers, on the recommendation of pro scout Scot Engler, acquired him for a player to be named later or cash, and optioned him to Round Rock.
Spending most of the season with the Express, Chirinos got a few brief looks with Texas, but not much work: Two weeks into this season, he’s already played more innings than he did in his three separate call-ups last year. But the Rangers kept him on the roster through the winter, not ready to give up on him, even as they re-signed Geovany Soto and brought Arencibia in.
There was a day in August of 2012, a few weeks after Colby Lewis’s last start and Alexi Ogando’s last save, when I wrote about a theory I had as to why Ron Washington isn’t crazy about playing kids. The idea bothered me enough that I wrote about the same thing again three days later.
And now I’m wondering, if Robinson Chirinos’s couple big hits for a sputtering offense, and his 4-for-4 kill rate as a catcher in the running game, and Arencibia’s struggles, and the fact that three of Chirinos’s five starts have come in all three of Martin Perez’s starts, and the fact that the 23-year-old Perez called the 29-year-old Chirinos “my boy” after yesterday’s gem, if all those things feed into an evolving trust quotient for his manager that includes one other important bullet point.
The infielder-turned-catcher, in his 14th pro season, absolutely paid his professional dues before getting this shot to establish himself as a semi-regular in the Major Leagues.
Washington, a catcher-turned-infielder, got his first real shot in his 11th season. Also at age 29.
Robinson Chirinos is a lot more like Ron Washington was, and a lot less like Jurickson Profar in 2012, or Michael Choice in 2014.
In more ways than one.
What Chirinos is battling for is a role. He doesn’t have the upside that Profar or Choice has, and at age 29 he doesn’t have their future, either.
But he may have the manager’s trust, or is at least in the process of earning it, and I’m wondering if that might have a little bit to do not only with the way he’s starting to contribute, and the difficulties the player he’s competing against is having, but also with the Rangers picking up another player at exactly the right time — and maybe, in Chirinos’s specific case, for exactly the right manager.