The Rangers elected to play it safe and place veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski on the 15-day disabled list with an oblique strain after Wednesday night's game.
It turns the spotlight to former National League Rookie of the Year Geovany Soto.
The Rangers called up catcher Robinson Chirinos from Triple-A Round Rock, but it will be the 30-year-old Soto doing most of the catching in Pierzynski's absence. The Rangers need offense from Soto -- they'll miss Pierzynski's pop in the middle of the lineup, even though it hasn't been there during this three-week stretch with the oblique injury.
Soto has 10 strikeouts in 33 at-bats in limited playing time. He has one RBI and is batting .212. He just hasn't done much at the plate, but manager Ron Washington has shown faith him in key situations.
It's critical that Soto get into a flow with the pitching staff and catching most of the games should help him. The pressure is on him -- Pierzynski has led the Rangers to the best ERA in the American League. The staff's ERA with Soto behind the plate was 4.50 compared to 2.84 with Pierzynski before Wednesday night's game.
Soto did a good job with Derek Holland in the 4-1 victory over Milwaukee, even though the left-hander allowed a season-high 10 hits. Holland didn't have any walks and needed just 93 pitches to get through seven innings.
Don't forget Soto's great run catching Yu Darvish down the stretch last season when Darvish closed out the season with a 5-1 record and a 2.35 ERA. Remember there was talk in spring training of Soto being Darvish's personal catcher. Pierzynski quieted that talk.
But until he quiets that barking coming from his oblique injury, this is Soto's staff now.
Next up, the Astros: The Rangers are 16-4 against Houston since 2010. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Angels and their $148 million payroll have lost two straight to the Astros and their $26 million payroll and will try to avoid a sweep Thursday. If you're paying attention, the Rangers are 9 ½ games up on the Angels and 11 games ahead of the Astros.
Pitching matchups: The starters are set for this weekend. On Friday, Rangers right-hander Alexi Ogando (3-2, 3.08 ERA) will face left-hander Dallas Keuchel (0-1, 4.96); on Saturday, right-hander Yu Darvish (5-1, 2.56) will face lefty Erik Bedard (0-2, 7.36); and on Sunday it's right-hander Nick Tepesch (2-3, 4.50) vs. right-hander Jordan Lyles (1-0, 4.50).
Amazing stat: Since June 8, 2010, the Rangers have been in first place in the American League West for 484 of the last 520 days of the regular season. They enter Thursday 3 ½ games ahead of Oakland, which finished a road series in Cleveland with a day game. Life is good on top.