What's driving the Texas 'pen turnaround

June 21st, 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 -- The Rangers' bullpen struggled for weeks throughout late April and early May, from a sweep at the hands of the Reds in Cincinnati to a long West Coast road trip in which they lost a number of winnable games. Even as the club roared to a 18-9 record in May, the bullpen was the weak point.

Despite that, manager Bruce Bochy continued to say the same thing: “These guys will figure it out.” Or some variation of that sentence.

“We have the guys who can do it,” Bochy said back in May. “They've done it. Once you've done it, you should know inside you can do it again. It’s about confidence. That's what it is.”

The Hall of Famer may have been right.

Here's the Rangers' bullpen ERA by month:

April: 3.46

May: 5.72

June: 3.94 (through June 19)

So what’s gotten them back on track? Left-hander Will Smith said the biggest thing he feels has been confidence throughout the bullpen.

“After a lot of hiccups, there’s no getting around it, there’s a lot of confidence and they’re throwing strikes,” Bochy said. “It's so important we keep the bullpen in order. We’re not quite where we want to be, but we're very close. The bullpen has just improved, I think, over the last month.”

Sure, there’s a few new faces in rookie Grant Anderson -- who had an electric debut in Detroit -- and Joe Barlow and John King finally returning from Triple-A Round Rock.

But the bullpen turnaround has had as much to do with who’s remained with the club as anything new. Smith has become the lockdown closer he’s been in the past. Jose Leclerc has straightened himself out, though he’s not yet perfect. Brock Burke continues to provide quality innings.

But maybe the biggest turnaround has come from right-hander Josh Sborz, who entered the season with a career 4.85 ERA in the big leagues.

More than anything through the struggles, Texas needed a middle relief arm to bridge the gap before the starters and Smith closing out games. For most of the first two months, the club didn’t have that.

Sborz has filled that role.

The right-hander landed on the IL with an ankle injury out of Spring Training and didn’t join the big league club until mid-April. He struggled through May, posting an 8.31 ERA over 8 2/3 innings before turning it around this month, becoming exactly what the Rangers have needed.

Sborz hasn’t allowed a run in June, working 11 2/3 innings in seven games this month. During that time, he has struck out 15 while walking just two, lowering his season ERA to 2.83.

Bochy often pointed specifically to Sborz when asked about guys in the bullpen who had the stuff to turn it around but never quite put it all together.

“You don’t know for sure,” said Bochy on if he knew how good Sborz could eventually be. “He’s got the stuff and we just had the confidence that he would. You see why now. We talked about this and we knew this guy could be a big piece of our bullpen. He needed some work in the Minor Leagues.

“So after going on the IL, getting his arm freshened up, he worked on things, mainly pounding the strike zone. He made an adjustment there. He was shanking everything this spring. It's pretty obvious he was not in sync on what he needed to do. So it's good that nobody gave up on him. He went down, worked on stuff and here he is, a big part of this bullpen.”

Bochy added that it’s also about guys being comfortable in their roles.

“I think when you look at their workload and the quality of work that they're doing, it's really picked up down there,” Bochy reiterated. “I said [the other day], the confidence is growing. You can see it when they go out there. They're throwing strikes, quality strikes, and it's really been throughout the bullpen. it's so critical that you get the bullpen going because you really expect to play a lot of ballgames that may be determined by that bullpen. They're so important and I've been very pleased with how they're throwing the ball.”