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Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Rangers aim to settle in vs. Rays

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As he and his Texas Rangers teammates prepare for Wednesday night’s third contest of their four-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg, Fla., shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa continues to settle in at his new position.

Kiner-Falefa had two hits, with a run, RBI and stolen base, and the Rangers beat the Rays 8-3 on Tuesday night to snap a four-game losing streak that produced just four runs and included three shutouts.

The American League’s Gold Glove winner at third base last season, Kiner-Falefa was moved exclusively to shortstop during the offseason. The move allows him to show off his range and glove work that earned him top defensive honors at the hot corner in 2020’s 60-game season.

However, in his 15 games at shortstop last season, the 26-year-old Honolulu native’s field production was better than at third base, where he won the Gold Glove: He committed no errors in 43 chances and turned six double plays at short. He had five errors in 116 chances at third.

“I feel like I’m able to make plays that other guys can’t make (at shortstop),” said Kiner-Falefa, who is hitting .255. “Just having that opportunity to be out there, it’s exciting.”

Texas manager Chris Woodward decided to replace Elvis Andrus — the club’s shortstop since 2009 — early in the offseason. The Rangers traded the two-time All-Star to the Oakland Athletics in February.

On Wednesday, rookie Kohei Arihara (0-1, 5.00) will make his third start after early season outings of five innings and four innings.

The right-hander will face the Rays for the first time after allowing 11 hits, five earned runs, a walk and two strikeouts combined against Kansas City and San Diego.

Texas announced Tuesday that Ronald Guzman — injured Monday during his first career start in left field — has a meniscus cartilage tear in his right knee and was placed on the 10-day injured list. He is expected to be out much longer than that, though the Rangers didn’t provide a timetable for his return.

The club called up outfielder Adolis Garcia from the taxi squad. Garcia played left field and went 1-for-4 in Tuesday’s win.

For the Rays, manager Kevin Cash is expected to call on left-hander Josh Fleming (5-0, 2.78 in 2020) to make his season debut. The 24-year-old was added to the taxi squad on Monday.

He was left off the Opening Day roster to give him a chance to work on his strength and stamina. Despite appearing in seven games last season, he threw only 32 1/3 innings.

“He got built up a little bit more than the other guys that were optioned during spring training,” Cash said. “And he’s been able to hold that length throughout his first couple of weeks at the (alternate) site.”

Fleming was 2-0 in spring training, but he threw just 8 2/3 innings in four outings. He gave up three hits, walked one and struck out eight. He has never faced the Rangers.

“Really competes — I mean really competes,” Cash said of the second-year pitcher.

“He wants to win; he works fast. He’s intent with his pitches in the zone. He’s not enamored with swing and miss; he tries to create as much soft contact as possible, throwing strikes. I think he knows what makes him really special, and that’s sinking the ball, cutting the ball and putting it on the ground, letting his defense play.”

Starting Fleming will allow Cash to give 41-year-old Rich Hill another day of rest.

–Field Level Media

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