SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Less than a year ago, Kevin Jepsen was driving his travel trailer through the mountains of northern Arizona and camping on the beach in Santa Barbara while wondering what he was going to do with his life.His wife, Andrea, was pregnant, and he was unemployed. His body
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Less than a year ago, Kevin Jepsen was driving his travel trailer through the mountains of northern Arizona and camping on the beach in Santa Barbara while wondering what he was going to do with his life.
His wife, Andrea, was pregnant, and he was unemployed. His body felt broken and his once-powerful right arm felt dead. He had an offer from the D-backs to pitch at Triple-A Reno, but knew it was useless.
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"I wasn't ready to go play, mentally and physically," Jepsen said. "I wasn't going to be 100 percent mentally, so let's not waste anybody's time."
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That's when Jepsen and his wife jumped into the camper to figure out what to do next. His soul-searching came up with just one answer.
"That's why I am back to playing baseball," Jepsen said. "I had no [other] answers, too young to do some stuff and too old to do others so …"
So now he is likely going to make the Rangers' Opening Day roster. Jepsen, once one of the top right-handed setup relievers in the American League, is about to complete an impressive journey from the beaches of California to Globe Life Park in Arlington.
"He has been very impressive," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said.
Jepsen has earned a spot in the Rangers' bullpen by allowing just one run in 9 1/3 innings over nine appearances. He has struck out eight and not walked a batter. Last year in Spring Training he had a 12.27 ERA for the D-backs, walking three and striking out one.
The D-backs asked him to go to Reno and try to work out of it. Jepsen decided just to walk away.
"I knew how my body felt," Jepsen said. "I felt like I was throwing underwater. The arm didn't want to move. The arm didn't want to go. … I don't know if it was wear and tear, I don't know if it's a strength issue, maybe everything combined. I just know that if I went to Reno, it wasn't going to be a long stay."
The time off helped. He focused on a rehab program instead of worrying about a job. When the body felt right, he started throwing again. He had a showcase for teams at the end of June and the Nationals signed him to a Minor League contract. First stop was extended spring training in West Palm Beach, Fla., where he spent the mornings throwing live batting practice to Jayson Werth.
He was then sent to Triple-A Syracuse, and it didn't go well. He had a 13.50 ERA after six outings.
"Get to Syracuse and I'm still throwing 90-91 mph," Jepsen said. "Gave up 13 runs in my first four outings, and it was like whoa. About that time I was going, 'This is it, that's all she wrote.'
"Because I took the time off, did the rehab, the body was feeling good. I should be throwing as good as I possibly can. I felt refreshed with all the time off. It just wasn't there. I kept throwing and wondering how long were they going to keep me there."
Everything turned after a terrible bullpen session on Aug. 1.
"It was probably my worst bullpen ever," Jepsen said. "All I threw was fastballs and I didn't throw a single one over the plate. I was having trouble finding the catcher. As I was walking off with the catcher, I thought: this is it."
The catcher was Spencer Kieboom, who had one suggestion. Jepsen was landing on his toes with his lead foot instead of the heel. That was keeping him from driving down the hill and getting maximum power in his pitches. Jepsen checked the video and looked back at 2015, when he saved 15 games with a 2.33 ERA for the Twins and Rays.
Kieboom was right.
"Went back out that night and I was 94 just like that," Jepsen said. "Just boom, boom, boom. I closed the game. That was the exact moment where it went from really awful to really good."
Good as in 21 strikeouts in his final 16 1/3 innings while walking just one. The Rangers were paying attention and signed him to a Minor League contract.
The Rangers have not announced their final roster, but with Timothy Lincecum and Tony Barnette likely starting the season on the disabled list, Jepsen appears to have a spot locked up.
"I don't plan on going camping in the next week or so," Jepsen said.
T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.