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Soft-tossers have saved the Rangers' bullpen

Bibens-Dirkx, Claudio proving successful despite below-average velocity
MLB.com @Sullivan_Ranger

ARLINGTON -- Austin Bibens-Dirkx and Alex Claudio have two of the slowest fastballs on the Rangers. Bibens-Dirkx averages 90.5 miles per hour with his fastball, and Claudio is at 86.7.

But they have been two of the Rangers' more effective relievers this season, and there may be a lesson in that at a time when clubs are trying to overload bullpens with as many hard throwers as possible.

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ARLINGTON -- Austin Bibens-Dirkx and Alex Claudio have two of the slowest fastballs on the Rangers. Bibens-Dirkx averages 90.5 miles per hour with his fastball, and Claudio is at 86.7.

But they have been two of the Rangers' more effective relievers this season, and there may be a lesson in that at a time when clubs are trying to overload bullpens with as many hard throwers as possible.

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"You know it's quality of pitch, quality of strike, the ability to change speeds and execute pitches," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "It's not always how hard you throw. It's about throwing strikes, controlling the zone and feel of pitch."

That doesn't mean the Rangers are going to curb their zest for hard throwers. Matt Bush and Keone Kela are still highly regarded relievers.

"Having a healthy balance is necessary," Banister said. "When you're running power out of the rotation, you're adding power onto power when that's all you have out of the bullpen. A change of pace is necessary. Power is still king in the sport ... but having guys commanding the strike zone with off-speed stuff, it plays."

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Bibens-Dirkx gets by with five different pitches -- fastball, cutter, changeup, curve and slider -- thrown from a variety of angles and has found a niche in the Rangers' bullpen as a long reliever/spot starter. He earned the win Thursday with 1 2/3 scoreless innings in the Rangers' 9-8 win over the White Sox.

"I feel like the more hitters have to worry about, the easier it is for pitchers," Bibens-Dirkx said. "Last night was a testament for getting first-pitch strikes."

Strike one is paramount for soft-tossers. Opponents are hitting .179 off Bibens-Dirkx when an at-bat begins with a strike, and they're hitting .300 when the count starts at 1-0.

"The times I have struggled is when I'm not consistently in the strike zone," Bibens-Dirkx said. "I don't have dominant stuff. I have good stuff that can get guys out, but I have to be more consistent in pitch selection and pitch location."

Bibens-Dirkx said he has learned much from Claudio, who began the season as the Rangers' long reliever and is now their de facto closer.

"He has been very helpful to me," Bibens-Dirkx said. "You don't have to have dominant stuff if you locate the ball with movement. It's all about pitching, and he does that. He knows how to be successful by executing his pitches."

The Rangers have had nine relievers average 94 miles per hour or better on their fastball this season. Of those nine, Bush and Jose Leclerc have been here all year, and Ricardo Rodriguez and Jhan Marinez just arrived. Kela is on the disabled list and Tanner Scheppers is in the Minors. Jeremy Jeffress, Sam Dyson and Ernesto Frieri are no longer here.

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.

Texas Rangers, Austin Bibens-Dirkx, Alex Claudio