While the closer spot is getting the spotlight with those two guys down, manager Chris Woodward emphasized that these next few games will be vital to how the club evaluates the pitching staff from top to bottom come April 1.
“Look, Leclerc and Hernandez going down hurts our depth, but we'll still have some depth that I really like,” Woodward said. “Maybe we preserve that by making certain decisions, but we do have some pretty significant decisions to make in the next few days.”
One of those decisions has already been made with right-hander Jordan Lyles securing his spot as a tandem starter for the Rangers. Woodward said Lyles had an edge coming into camp and he’s shown that he should be in consideration for those spots.
With Lyles taking one of those spots with no innings restrictions, the remaining right-handed tandem role will go to one of Dane Dunning or Kyle Cody, who are both top 30 prospects in the Texas farm system, per MLB Pipeline.
In Tuesday’s 6-4 win over the Angels, Lyles went four innings, giving up one run on three hits with four strikeouts. Woodward said that was exactly the type of performance they wanted from Lyles when the Rangers signed him in December 2019.
Lyles felt that it was a good day for him, keeping the hitters off balance throughout his outing. He threw more sliders, and a few for strikeouts, that made him feel like he was in a good spot.
“You just see by his body language, tempo and everything that he feels really good about his stuff right now,” Woodward said. “He's got four-plus pitches right now that he feels really confident with. You can see that. It's fun to watch a guy, who maybe didn't have the greatest year, come back and put the work and the time in and say, ‘You know what, I'm a quality Major League pitcher.’”
Lyles posted a 7.02 ERA in '20 and spent the offseason focusing on analytics for the first time in his career as a way to improve his work on the mound. He worked especially on pitch design and how the numbers factored in. He tinkered on the spin-efficiency of his four-seamer and his curveball, while adding a new slider and changeup to his arsenal.
“I feel good where I'm at today and overall physically,” Lyles said. “Most importantly, I'm in a good spot to head into the season. Overall, this Spring Training I think things went pretty well. The adjustments and changes I've made to a couple pitches have benefited me pretty well. I'm looking forward to a good season.”
Khris Davis injury
After escaping what could have been a concussion after getting hit in the head with a pitch during Monday’s game against the Rockies, Davis may have injured himself on Tuesday. In the win over the Angels, Davis placed a perfect bunt in the first inning, and beat the throw for an infield single. But he let up halfway down the line.
The Rangers officially announced it as a left quad strain, but Davis will be further evaluated.
“We’re not quite sure exactly the extent of the injury is, but it was pretty sore and I went and looked at him after,” Woodward said. "I don't know what kind of strain or what level it would be but the only good thing about a quad is he typically can come back a little sooner. It is better than a hamstring or calf or something of that nature.”