Gimenez, Chirinos shine in shared starting role
After being demoted several times, both catchers thriving in Rangers' lineup
OAKLAND -- Chris Gimenez and Robinson Chirinos have played in 1,826 games in the Minor Leagues, including 526 at Triple-A.
They have played 231 games in the Major Leagues, but they have been demoted to the Minor Leagues a dozen times. They have been designated for assignment and non-tendered in the offseason. Both have been on the 60-day disabled list with major injuries. Gimenez has three times become a free agent by refusing outright assignment. Chirinos was once traded for future considerations, the big league equivalent of a sofa being left out in the curb for anybody to cart away.
Now, by quirks of fate and events nobody foresaw, Gimenez and Chirinos are sharing something else. They are sharing the starting catching duties for the Rangers, and so far, they are thriving in that role.
"I'll tell you what, they are both playing well and both doing a good job with the pitching staff," general manager Jon Daniels said. "Both are throwing well. Robbie's throwing has been the defensive highlight of the team. But both have been making offensive contributions as well. They are not trying to do too much, and both have had big hits. They have steadied us at a position we were obviously having some inconsistencies."
First, there was the injury, which opened the way for Chirinos. Geovany Soto suffered torn cartilage in his right knee and needed surgery at the end of Spring Training. That seemed to open up a spot for Chirinos on the Opening Day roster, but there was some sentiment in camp that he would win a job anyway, even if Soto had stayed healthy.
"In Spring Training, it was [catching instructor Bengie Molina], his first time with us, said Chirinos caught his eye," Daniels said. "He said on day one, 'Don't fall asleep on this guy.'"
The Rangers didn't, even though Chirinos had played in just 33 Major League games prior to this season and missed all of 2011 because of a concussion after getting hit in the mask by a foul ball. Chirinos was on the Opening Day roster. J.P. Arencibia was the Opening Day catcher, but it didn't take long for Chirinos to pass him on the depth chart and become the No. 1 catcher.
"There are a lot of things you can't control, but I was getting a chance to do what I love to do, and that was prove I was ready to catch in the big leagues," Chirinos said. "I was sorry what happened to Geo in Spring Training, but it gave me the opportunity to be here from day one."
Chirinos is hitting a modest .248, but he has six home runs and 20 RBIs in 42 games. Texas is 20-20 when he starts and -- in a throwback to franchise greats Jim Sundberg and Ivan Rodriguez -- he has thrown out 42.9 percent of attempted basestealers, the best rate in the Major Leagues. Not bad for a guy who spent his first eight years in professional baseball as an infielder and didn't convert to catching until he was 29.
But with the help of Soto, Molina and catching coordinator Hector Cruz, Chirinos adjusted his footwork to help quicken his throws, and he has become a defensive force behind the plate.
"I have been thanking God every day from day one," Chirinos said. "I am just trying to have fun and do the best I can when I get the chance to play to help the team win. When you do that and put your heart and mind into what you do, you are going to do well. Early on, I knew it was going to be a big year for me, and it has been like that."
Gimenez took a more convoluted route to the Rangers. He wasn't with them in Spring Training. Gimenez was with the Athletics, but he was claimed off waivers on March 28 because Texas was desperate for catching depth, and he had been strongly recommended by pro scout Chris Briones.
Gimenez was on the Opening Day roster because of a rules technicality, but he was then outrighted to Triple-A Round Rock. He actually refused the assignment to become a free agent and see if there was a big league job somewhere.
There wasn't, so Gimenez re-signed with the Rangers to catch at Triple-A. Even then, he might never have seen the light of the big leagues if Chris Snyder -- another late spring catching acquisition at Round Rock -- had not decided to retire. Snyder did, and Gimenez played well and got the call on May 20 when Texas decided Arencibia needed to be in Triple-A to get out of his terrible slump. Gimenez is 31, and the Rangers are his fifth organization in five years.
"It was an exciting moment for me," Gimenez said. "I really felt my chances were dwindling. I'm not getting any younger, so I'm trying to take advantage of every opportunity. I know what I am capable of doing, but up to now, I haven't shown it. But I still felt if I had the opportunity, I could show what I could do. A lot of it is confidence, just letting it go and being yourself.
"Sometimes when you're young, you get caught up in trying to get four hits in one at-bat or you are not going to play for two weeks. That's tough to go through."
Gimenez shouldn't have to worry about that right now. The Rangers have plenty of concerns about their injury-riddled ballclub, but catching doesn't seem to be one of them right now.
"The thing that has impressed me the most is they care about their pitchers, and they get them through their innings," manager Ron Washington said. "And they have supplied us with offense. They both can receive the ball well, and they throw well. They've done a really good job, they really have."
Most important to Washington and the pitching staff is how they call a game.
"They are awesome, let me count the ways," veteran left-hander Joe Saunders said. "No. 1: I like the fact they do a lot of homework on opposing hitters and how we work as pitchers. For myself, a new guy on the team, they watched a lot of video and know how I attack guys, my sequences, how I get ahead of hitters, how I put a guy away. What it comes down to is a confidence factor. As far as pitching calling, I think in my five starts, I have shook them off twice."
The arrangement could change at the All-Star break. That's when Soto is due to return from the disabled list, and so far, everything is on schedule as far as his recovery. That could change suddenly, as Texas has discovered with other injured players this year. Until then, the Rangers push forward with their unexpected but satisfactory catching duo.
"That's out of my control," said Gimenez, who has also played first base and the outfield in his career. "I will do whatever they ask me to do. Hopefully, I can do enough to stick around for awhile. This has been a great club, it would be fun to stick it out."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.