Relationship formed in Japan landed Chirinos in Houston

              Houston Astros Robinson Chirinos hits an RBI single during the fifth inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game against the New York Mets, Saturday, March 2, 2019, in Port St. Lucie, Fla. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A trip to Japan helped Robinson Chirinos get to Houston.

Texas declined its $4.5 million option on the catcher shortly before the 34-year-old traveled to Japan last November with a big league all-star team. He developed a friendship with the squad’s pitching coach, Houston’s Brent Strom. Less than a month later, the Astros agreed to a $5.75 million, one-year contract.

“When I signed, he called me and he was saying, ‘I told you you were coming here,'” Chirinos said of Strom.

During the Japan trip, Chirinos liked the way Strom worked to improve pitchers who weren’t even on his major league team.

“It showed a lot of the kind of person he is,” Chirinos said. “He cared about the pitchers.”

Meanwhile, Strom relayed information about Chirinos’ character to his bosses.

“Just the personality and the presence, not necessarily the catching,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch said.

Catchers Brian McCann and Evan Gattis had left the Astros as free agents. Chirinos impressed against Houston last year, hitting three of his 18 home runs against the Astros.

“He’s got a big swing. He likes hitting in our ballpark,” Hinch said. “I hope he likes hitting against the opponent in our ballpark as much he liked hitting against us.”

Chirinos was 5 for 15 in spring training with one home run entering Tuesday. He has been focused on developing relationships with Houston’s pitchers.

“I think his openness to listening is very impressive,” said Hinch, a former major league catcher. “I know it sounds like it should be common, but for someone who’s been in the league it’s easy to feel like you know everything and he gives off no impression that he knows everything, and I can appreciate that.”

Chirinos has altered the way he sets up behind the plate and presents his target.

“We demand a lot of our catchers in this organization with our pitching staff,” said pitcher Collin McHugh, who first played with Chirinos on that Japan tour. “He’s been really willing and eager to come and learn, come and listen, and willing to get his feet wet.”