How adjustments got Barlow back to bigs

May 25th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Kennedi Landry’s Rangers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

ARLINGTON -- Joe Barlow stayed back in Surprise, Ariz., after Spring Training. Throughout Cactus League play, the Rangers coaching staff felt like his stuff, command and velocity was all down and they needed him 100% to contribute to the big league bullpen this season.

Barlow struggled with blisters during the last two seasons, and had minor wrist surgery to remedy the issue this offseason. But back in camp, Barlow said he felt like he was being a little cautious with throwing due to those prior issues.

So he stayed in Arizona, threw in the biomechanical pitching lab at the Rangers’ Surprise campus, and worked hard to correct those issues.

“We threw a lab to get some more information, then we worked on where my momentum was taking me,” Barlow explained. “I was pulling off [the mound] pretty hard, which was leaving my arm behind. It was just working on getting back to what I was doing before with staying more straight to the plate. And then that being the route of a few other little things to set up, but it was mostly getting to where I'm going with better directions with my body.”

While the surgery didn’t cause those mechanical issues he was experiencing, Barlow believes wholeheartedly that the desire to avoid finger blisters caused him to adjust his mechanics in a way that was not beneficial.

It showed in the numbers too. In his debut MLB season in 2021, Barlow posted a 1.55 ERA over 29 innings out of the bullpen.

In the first half of the 2022 season, Barlow posted 3.26 ERA prior to the All-Star Game, which was higher than his career average at that point but not out of control. In the second half, when the blisters kept persisting, he posted a 7.71 ERA before being shut down for the season.

“I would say the finger definitely played a part in it,” he said. “It was good to know if that's the cause and to be able to know where I need to be in general, because next time it might not be the finger. My body might just be out of sync. So now I feel like I understand my delivery better as a whole.”

Barlow ultimately pitched to a 2.63 ERA over 13 2/3 innings with Triple-A Round Rock this season before joining the big league club during the last homestand.

Besides the need for fresh bullpen arms, what made the staff believe Barlow was ready to be recalled?

“I'd say more than anything, his stuff has picked up,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “His command, just everything. He’s been throwing the ball well [in the Minors] and he’s got the experience up here pitching obviously. It just looks like he's gotten himself on track and that's why he's here.”

Even so, like so many Rangers’ relievers -- the bullpen entered Monday’s game against the Pirates with a collective 4.57 ERA, the sixth-worst mark in the Majors -- Barlow hit a speed bump as well.

After tossing 2 1/3 scoreless innings between his first three outings of the season, the right-hander wavered in Pittsburgh, where he recorded just one out and gave up two earned runs on a Tucupita Marcano grand slam.

One man can’t save a bullpen, especially one who doesn’t seem like he’s at his best just yet. Having at least one reliable bullpen option would give Bochy more flexibility, though, especially in high-leverage situations.

Barlow had 24 career saves (in 29 opportunities) in the big leagues between 2021-22.

“I'd be comfortable putting him in anytime in the game, really,” Bochy said of dispensing Barlow out of the bullpen. “Predicting where we may put him and who we use earlier [in the game], he would be fine helping set up late in the game. Ideally, I would like to find the right spot, maybe not such a high-leverage situation, but with him, it’s a little bit different. He's got the experience to do it. He's done it [before].”