Gerald Laird, the Rangers' once and future starting catcher, is making a compelling case for getting the job right now.
Manager Buck Showalter knows that the numbers are getting harder and harder to ignore as the season moves into its third month. Suddenly, the question of who the No. 1 guy is has become a bit murky.
Laird put on a show on Sunday afternoon in just his sixth start in the Rangers' last 22 games, hitting two doubles and two home runs and driving in four runs in a 10-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.
Laird was also behind the plate working with rookie left-hander John Rheinecker, who won his second straight start by holding the White Sox to two runs in eight innings.
"I hear Gerald," Showalter said. "I hear him loud and clear. That's just what I want to see. When he gets the opportunity to play, he takes advantage of it."
* * *
"I felt comfortable at the plate and had some pretty good swings," Laird said. "Buehrle is tough, but I stuck with a good approach and got some pitches to hit."
His reward is likely to be another start on Tuesday night, when Kevin Millwood pitches against the Kansas City Royals.
That doesn't mean that he has taken the job from Rod Barajas, but he is making a strong case for more playing time.
"I'm going to try to get Gerald in at least one game a series," Showalter said.
That is a change from Opening Day, when the plan was to get him in at least one or more games a week.
"I'll do that in Kansas City, and see where that takes us," Showalter said. "I want to create an environment where guys get a chance to contribute for the right reasons. I'd be a fool not to take advantage of that."
Laird's big afternoon left him hitting .367 (22-for-60) with four home runs and eight RBIs in 21 games, including 15 starts. But Barajas hasn't been exactly giving away the job. After a terrible start, he is hitting .280 with three home runs and seven RBIs since April 25.
The Rangers are 22-19 when Barajas starts and 8-7 with Laird behind the plate. Texas pitchers have a 4.19 ERA when Laird is behind the plate, and a 4.88 ERA with Barajas there.
All this means that the better Laird plays, the more pressure he puts on his bosses not to ignore him.
"I try not to look at it like that because then I put too much pressure on myself and do too much," Laird said. "In this lineup, hitting behind those guys, it takes a lot of the pressure off. I don't feel like I have to hit a three-run home run, just have some good at-bats.
"I don't look at it as putting pressure on anybody. I'll play hard when I get in there, and if that creates more playing time, that's good."
Laird was the Rangers' Opening Day catcher in 2004, but he tore his thumb six weeks into the season and missed two months. By the time he returned, Barajas was entrenched as the No. 1 catcher and has been there ever since.
At some point there is going to be a change. Barajas is eligible for free agency after the season, and Laird will have just over two years of service time. If Laird keeps playing well, there will be little doubt as to what the Rangers will do at catcher next year.
But what happens five months from now is irrelevant for a team that's in first place.
It's what's happening right now that matters most for the Rangers, and Laird is putting together a strong case for more playing time, if not the starting job altogether.
"Gerald is doing his part," Showalter said. "The more he plays, the more he builds confidence -- not only with himself but his teammates. We're fortunate to have two catchers who are capable of playing in the Major Leagues."
So Laird should be getting two starts in a row, and should start playing a little more often, at least of what Buck says holds true...
I like that...