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Rangers' taxed bullpen back at full strength

Since Trade Deadline, relievers among league's best

TORONTO -- Between Sunday's complete game from Cole Hamels and three days off since the regular season ended, the Rangers are expecting their taxed bullpen to be back to full strength today for Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Blue Jays at 2:30 p.m. CT on FOX Sports 1.

"Talking to everybody at [Tuesday's] workout, everybody was feeling good," closer Shawn Tolleson said. "A couple of days off and the excitement of postseason have refreshed everybody."

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The Rangers need it that way, especially with the heightened role of bullpens in the postseason. With the additions of left-hander Jake Diekman and right-hander Sam Dyson at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, the club's bullpen went from being a weakness to a significant strength before being pushed to the limit in the final week of the season.

"We have ultimate confidence in them," catcher Chris Gimenez said. "I feel like the way we have been able to transform the bullpen has been one of the biggest reasons -- if not the biggest reason -- why we are here. They have done an outstanding job putting guys in the right spots, having them take off and run with it."

The Rangers had one of the worst bullpens in the AL for the first four months of the season. Their collective 4.64 relief ERA was the highest in the league and their 1.42 WHIP was the second highest.

That changed in the final two months of the season after the additions of Diekman from the Phillies and Dyson from the Marlins. During that stretch, the Rangers' collective relief ERA of 3.01 was the second lowest, and their 1.20 WHIP was the third lowest.

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"I just think it's everyone's feeling that if we get into the sixth inning on, we are going to get the game under control and keep it locked down," Dyson said.

The Rangers' bullpen transformation really began in late May when Tolleson took over as closer from Neftali Feliz. But as the non-waiver Trade Deadline approached, general manager Jon Daniels included bullpen in his list of priorities. He had been talking to the Phillies about Diekman since the offseason even while trying to get starter Cole Hamels, too. It finally came together two days before the Deadline and was announced July 31.

"The more both sides got into it, [former Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro] and I wanted to see how many objectives we could accomplish," Daniels said. "They wanted as many prospects as possible and we wanted both guys. There was also some financial relief involved. The deal just kept growing."

Daniels, leading up to the Deadline, was also talking to the Marlins about some of their relievers. But both teams were engaged in bigger deals elsewhere, so the discussions didn't get serious until less than an hour before the Deadline.

"When we started talking to them, we were focused on some of their [veteran] relievers," Daniels said. "But the more we went in and scouted them, the more Sam was a guy who jumped out at us."

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The Rangers didn't have to set their ALDS roster until this morning, so the complete composition of the bullpen has not been determined. But it will include Tolleson, Dyson, Diekman and Keone Kela, who hasn't been scored upon in two months despite dealing with a tender right elbow. The club has three more spots to fill and has brought right-handers Ross Ohlendorf and Chi Chi Gonzalez, and left-handers Andrew Faulkner and Sam Freeman to Toronto. The Rangers will use a four-man rotation in the series, so one of their starters could end up in the bullpen.

With everybody getting four days off, manager Jeff Banister expects to use his bullpen the same way he did during the regular season. Kela and Dyson will be crucial in late-inning situations against the Blue Jays' right-handed power, but even Ohlendorf and/or Gonzalez in the fifth to sixth innings could have critical role in the series.

"We had a formula that we liked that worked very well for us down the stretch, and really throughout the last month," Banister said. "One of the things that we do look at is that the highest-leverage inning based on the lineup and who our guys are going to face, and we have certain guys that we like in certain spots, so we'll pay attention to that and try to find the appropriate time to bring in the right guys."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.
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