KANSAS CITY, Mo. _ Elvis Andrus’ return Monday to the Texas Rangers’ lineup has put into motion a merry-go-round.
How it will stop, no one knows.
And that’s just fine with manager Jeff Banister, who has decided the best way forward is to keep getting his group of infielders as much playing time as possible.
Andrus, who came off the disabled list and was in the starting lineup for Monday’s series-opening 6-3 victory over the Kansas City Royals, pushed Jurickson Profar into something of a no-man’s land. On Monday, Profar started at second base, pushing Rougned Odor to the dugout.
But Odor is scheduled to be back in the lineup the next two days, and will see as much action as Profar, Banister said.
Banister he met with his infielders before Monday’s game and said the plan is to get all of the infielders, including Andrus and Adrian Beltre, at least five games a week.
You can also add to the infielder mix rookie Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who has been tabbed as Robinson Chirinos’ backup catcher after Jose Trevino was optioned back to Double-A Frisco. Kiner-Falefa is scheduled to make his first major league start behind the plate on Wednesday.
It’s a nice fit because Yohander Mendez, who is making his second major league start, has thrown to Kiner-Falefa multiple times in the minor leagues.
Banister said Profar and Kiner-Falefa have earned a chance to remain everyday players. And Odor, he said, is trending in the right direction both defensively and at the plate. Odor is hitting .263 with seven walks in his past 22 games.
“I believe he’s progressively gotten better and showed progress where we need him to show progress,” Banister said. “Odor has been a significant player on this team and will continue to be a significant player.”
Profar will split time between third, shortstop and second base by giving Beltre and Andrus days off their feet each week.
“It’s going to be really hard,” Banister said of the juggling act. “I equate it to a basketball team trying to find enough touches for everybody.”
It’s certainly not a long-term option, but it makes sense this summer, at least until the July 31 trade deadline when the Rangers’ roster mix might alter greatly.
Kiner-Falefa had already been the Rangers’ emergency catcher but the club wants to give him a chance to show he can be a legitimate backup option for Chirinos. If so, Kiner-Falefa’s utility player stock will shoot up even more. He proved he is a plus defensive player at third and second base.
“He’s earned the right to be able to stick around and do it here,” Banister said. “We like him on the team. I think the fit is good. We like that he’s going to be able to get some work behind the plate. We felt like it was the right move to keep him here and go ahead and start that process.”
Kiner-Falefa’s playing time, while still important for his progress, is less of an issue, it seems, for Banister, who feels as if the rookie has proven himself in 56 games, including 52 starts since April 10. He’s played 33 games at third, 20 games at second and two games at short.
“I worked really hard the past two years to give myself this opportunity,” said Kiner-Falefa, who made his MLB debut on April 10. “I thought I did everything I needed to do to help the team and earn a spot. This is just the beginning for everything. I’ll make sure I get my infield work in and get in the outfield to shag balls just to be ready for any situation the game calls for. I’m just excited to show everybody what the new utility is.”
Odor is walking more (13 in 45 games) and he’s seeing more pitches, Banister said. Odor’s power, however, has yet to show. He has one homer and 15 RBIs this season after hitting at least 30 homers the previous two seasons.
“He’s moving the ball the other way, laying the ball on the ground and running the bases better,” he said. “You have to get to a place before (the power numbers) show up. There are steps to it.”
Banister expects Kiner-Falefa to catch about every third game while also seeing time at third or second. Kiner-Falefa already considers himself an emergency option in the outfield and consistently shags balls during batting practice for fun.
“We will continue to use and rotate those infielders around so that we can keep everybody engaged with, at minimum, a five day a week scenario,” Banister said. “That kid works. He’s tremendous at third base.”