Woodward says Leclerc's role likely expanding

December 11th, 2018

LAS VEGAS -- was brilliant for the Rangers after taking over as closer for the last two months of the 2018 season.
But as the Rangers discuss the best way to build a pitching staff, they remain undecided on what will be the best role for Leclerc going forward. It is not automatic that he will return as closer in 2019. Nothing is automatic these days when it comes to the Rangers' pitching staff.
"He's one of our best pitchers, let's put it that way," Rangers manager Chris Woodward said on Monday at the Winter Meetings. "I would love to have the staff where everything lines up to where he's just our closer every day. But he might be too valuable to pitch more than one inning. We don't want to just limit him. I think to limit him just to say he's our closer, I don't think it's fair to him."
Leclerc took over as closer after was traded to the Pirates at the end of July. Leclerc ended up making 18 appearances over the final two months and did not allow a run in 18 innings. He allowed three hits, walked six and struck out 29. Leclerc was also 12-for-12 in save situations.
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"He's going to be our best pitcher in the biggest situations, the highest-leverage situations he might be pitching, whether it's the seventh inning or the ninth inning," Woodward said. "I think that's kind of where we're at now. It depends when the season starts, Opening Day, and that's how it lines up, and he's just our closer, great. Because that means we have a pretty significant staff. But to be creative, he might be more a two- or three-inning guy, that can pitch some significant innings for us that gives us more a chance to win more games."

The operative phrase is "being creative." That's what the Rangers are up against on a rebuilding team that lost 95 games last season and is working with a limited payroll.
The Rangers came to the Winter Meetings looking for at least three starters and even more relievers. But identifying roles is not as important right now as identifying quality arms. There is a growing possibility the Rangers could end up relying on the "bullpenning" concept of having a reliever open the game for 1-2 innings before turning it over to a pitcher with more length.
That concept is still in the experimental stage all through baseball, but it's obvious that will be part of the Rangers' pitching plan to a certain extent.
"I think we've obviously looked at our pitching staff. … I couldn't tell you today, because I don't know what our pitching staff is going to be," Woodward said. "But we won't have five starters that we can rely on to go 120 pitches. I don't think anybody in baseball has that. We're going to have to decide certain days, whether it's the piggyback situation, whether it's an opener, our best way forward is to try to get a W that day.
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"To maximize every guy that we have. We can't ignore the fact that some of these numbers and things make sense. And I don't want our pitchers to think that they have to do something that they're not capable of. I want them to maximize what they're capable of right now."
When it comes to pitching, the Rangers have to examine every possible way of finding an advantage. Limiting their best pitcher to just one inning and only in a save situation might not be wise for a team that might have a hard time getting a lead into the ninth inning.
"Yeah, it is a challenge," Woodward said. "We have to be creative. Obviously, we're not done yet. We've got some work. Moving forward, we're going to have to obviously deal with who we have, and hopefully we have some depth. We're going to rely on some young arms. We're going to have to get them along.
"As long as we push the needle forward, they'll be in better shape. They might be put in situations where on other teams they might not be in that situation."