Chirinos shows he's more than a backup

Rangers backstop hits cleanup on Saturday against A's

Chirinos shows he's more than a backup

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers took the unusual step in Spring Training of giving their backup catcher a contract extension. Part of the reason is they wanted to send a message that Robinson Chirinos is more to them than a backup catcher.

Chirinos is reinforcing the Rangers' faith, going into Saturday's game against the Athletics hitting .294 with five home runs, 11 RBIs, a .429 on-base percentage and a .765 slugging percentage. He was the Rangers' cleanup hitter Saturday.

"I don't think I've ever done that," Chirinos said. "I think I did it once in Spring Training."

Saturday was only his 12th start in the Rangers' first 38 games -- Jonathan Lucroy is still the Rangers' No. 1 catcher -- but Chirinos has done well in adapting to his secondary role.

"I believe when I'm coming to the field every day that I'm playing every day," Chirinos said. "Also, the work I've put in the cage. Been hitting the machine, don't take any swings for granted. Thanks God it's showing up in the game. I've tried to keep the same routine since Opening Day. The days I play I do the same when I don't play."

He stays in tune with his pitchers by catching their bullpen sessions, except for days when he's in the lineup. The result is Rangers pitchers having a 3.24 ERA with Chirinos behind the plate entering Saturday.

Chirinos was the Rangers' Opening Day catcher in 2015 and '16, but he lost the No. 1 job when Lucroy was acquired from the Brewers at the non-waiver Trade Deadline last season. He had already missed two months from April 10-June 8 with a fractured right forearm.

"I think last year, when he came, the first week it was hard," Chirinos said. "It was hard to take it, but after that it was like, 'How can I make this on my side? How can I improve my game?' When you're going through a struggle or facing something you don't like, you either go up or down. And I chose to take the best of the opportunity, and it's been showing up."

It's still early, but Lucroy and Chirinos went into Saturday's game with a combined .820 OPS. Rangers catchers have had a combined OPS of over .800 just once (2011) since Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez left as a free agent after the 2002 season.

"He's a guy who has helped me a lot," Chirinos said. "We understand we're here together. I'm not fighting for his job and he's not fighting for my job. We have to be able to work together for the pitching staff and find a way to win games. That's it."

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. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.