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Catching situation getting tenuous

Catching situation gets tenuous

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Geno Petralli, who caught for the Rangers for nine seasons, arrived in camp on Monday. Petralli, 50, is in camp for a week as a special instructor.

He is not here as a candidate to be one of the Rangers' catchers. That part, the club has figured out.

But there is much the Rangers don't know about their catching, and the situation only grew more unsettled when Jarrod Saltalamacchia was scratched from Sunday's game against the Padres because of muscle spasms on the left side of his neck and back.

On Monday, the Rangers acquired veteran backup catcher Matt Treanor from the Brewers for infielder Ray Olmedo. Treanor joins Texas having been told he has a chance of being on the Opening Day roster. He has a March 30 "out" clause in his contract if he is not added to the Major League roster.

"Basically, I'm going to be in the same boat over there as I [was at Brewers camp], competing for a job," Treanor said. "From what it sounds like, I have a good opportunity [to begin the season in the Majors]."

According to scouts, Treanor, 34, is a strong defensive catcher with excellent makeup and a good reputation for working with a pitching staff. But he has never hit well enough to earn a full-time job in the Majors. He missed almost all of last season with a torn labrum in his right hip.

He is here because the Rangers are clearly growing concerned about Saltalamacchia.

Saltalamacchia, according to club officials, was starting to reassert himself as the Rangers' No. 1 catcher after missing five days because of a shoulder problem. Now, Taylor Teagarden will get a chance while Saltalamacchia is sidelined.

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"We're still playing it out," said manager Ron Washington, who declared the catching job wide open at the start of camp and has yet to select a winner. "I thought both guys were doing well. It's unfortunate that we lost Salty."

The Rangers, who are two weeks away from opening the season against the Blue Jays, are not sure how long Saltalamacchia will be sidelined. The injury is not considered too serious, but as a result of his shoulder problem, Saltalamacchia has played in just six games and has just 15 at-bats this spring.

"Salty was moving around better, throwing better and getting his hits," Washington said. "It's unfortunate that happened to him yesterday. We're just hoping it will only be a couple of days and then we can accelerate his at-bats."

Teagarden was behind the plate against the Giants on Monday and went into the game with three hits in six at-bats after a 2-for-13 start to the spring.

"Wash told us early on it would be a competition, and that's the way it's been," Teagarden said. "Salty has had a couple of bumps in the road, but there is still time and a lot of games to play. It's not something I'm letting affect my daily routine. I don't think about it too much because it would be worrying about something that is out of my control."

One possible scenario is there may not be a winner. There is still a possibility that Saltalamacchia and Teagarden could split the position the way the Angels do with Jeff Mathis and Mike Napoli.

But a bigger concern is getting Saltalamacchia ready, and he already had enough to deal with before his latest setback. He had shoulder surgery on Sept. 21 and then was shut down for a month after playing just two games in winter ball at the beginning of December.

He came to camp feeling 100 percent, but had a setback on March 9 when he was scratched from the lineup because of pain in the shoulder. This problem was determined to be scar tissue and Saltalamacchia missed five days. Now this.

"I'm not concerned," Saltalamacchia said. "I feel good behind the plate, my body has been good and my throws have been strong. I'd like to get in some Minor League games to get more at-bats to make sure I'm ready, but I'm definitely going to be ready."

Saltalamacchia suggested his problems in Spring Training are the result of his helter-skelter offseason and the ill-advised decision to play winter ball. He seems to believe that's the root of his problems here in Arizona.

"I expected all of this considering the offseason I had ... rushing to get to winter ball and then having to take a month off," Saltalamacchia said. "My throwing program and weight program really started here. But I don't feel I'm behind at all. ... Mentally I feel great."

The situation behind Saltalamacchia and Teagarden remains tenuous, which is why the Rangers acquired Treanor.

"They had a stronger need for catching than we had," Brewers assistant general manager Gord Ash said.

Veteran Toby Hall, who had shoulder surgery last year, was signed as insurance, but the Rangers expected him to be further along in his throwing program than he showed early in camp. With two weeks to go, Hall has started throwing to bases in early drills but has yet to go behind the plate in a game. That could happen soon, but the Rangers do not expect him to be an option by Opening Day.

"No, not right now, but miracles have happened," Washington said.

The Rangers also looked at Max Ramirez, their offensive catching prodigy who is still a work in progress behind the plate. He has also been working at first base as a possible right-handed bat off the bench.

"Max deserves a lot of credit," Washington said. "He has worked awfully hard. He's had to get work at two positions. He's improved at receiving and understanding how to call ballgames and is starting to come around with the bat. He has to hit and is starting to show it."

The Rangers also have Kevin Richardson, who has mastered the art of working with pitchers but is average at best in other areas of his game. The trade for Treanor pretty much eliminates any chance of Richardson making the team.

Really, this all comes down to Saltalamacchia being healthy again. If that happens, the Rangers will have an idea of what their catching will look like.

"The biggest concern is for him to stop having the nagging stuff," Washington said. "You certainly don't like seeing people go down in Spring Training, especially when it gets to the end."

It is getting to the end, and the Rangers are getting concerned.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["spring_training" ] }
{"content":["spring_training" ] }