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Rangers could use multiple relievers to close

Lincecum could assume role, but likely won't be ready for Opening Day
MLB.com @Sullivan_Ranger

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Rangers manager Jeff Banister said he is going to buy a present for every member of the media.

"I am going to get you all a T-shirt that says, 'Who is your closer?'" Banister said. "That way you just point to it."

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Rangers manager Jeff Banister said he is going to buy a present for every member of the media.

"I am going to get you all a T-shirt that says, 'Who is your closer?'" Banister said. "That way you just point to it."

That is the most frequent question Banister has been asked this spring. The answer is purposely vague.

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"Right now, anybody we bring in any situation is the closer in that inning," Banister said. "That is as simple as I can make it. If you don't close that inning out, you don't get the opportunity to close out the ninth."

The ninth inning was not the only issue for the Rangers last year. They were outscored, 218-152, in the sixth and seventh innings combined. And they lost 14 games when leading after six innings. So Banister's main concern right now is assembling a complete bullpen.

Deciding on a closer comes later.

"It's not to diminish the ninth inning," Banister said. "The ninth inning is extremely significant. It's a different animal. To get the 27th out, the feeling of being able to do that is most important. If you don't shut down the sixth, seventh or eighth, you'll never get the opportunity to do it in the ninth."

The possibility exists Tim Lincecum could be the closer, but he won't be at the beginning. Lincecum, who was signed on March 7, threw batting practice on Tuesday and has yet to pitch in a Cactus League game. The Rangers don't see him being ready for Opening Day.

Tweet from @Sullivan_Ranger: Tim Lincecum is throwing live batting practice pic.twitter.com/FJHz0FQiyn

Lincecum didn't pitch in the big leagues last season, and his only relief experience came during the 2012 postseason with the Giants.

"I want to be wherever they think I fit. I think I could work out of that because I have done multiple roles in my life," Lincecum said. "I feel I could flourish in any late-inning role. Right now, I am preparing to pitch a couple of innings to an inning."

Video: Tim Lincecum throws live batting practice

Alex Claudio finished last season as the Rangers' closer, but he is not expected to continue in that role. The Rangers see his versatility and durability more valuable in other areas.

"Claudio is a significant pitcher in our bullpen," Banister said. "Claudio can pitch with significance in the sixth, significance in the seventh, eighth and ninth. That is how valuable he is to us, and that's how valuable he will be going forward."

The Rangers used Matt Bush as a closer for part of last season, but they see him as a multi-inning "bridge" in middle relief. Keone Kela has the talent and fearless makeup to be a closer, but the Rangers have concerns about his durability. He has missed time on the disabled list the past two years because of elbow and shoulder issues.

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"He's got to be available," Banister said.

Jake Diekman is another possibility, especially because he is the Rangers' best power left-handed option. Chris Martin and Tony Barnette, who has a stiff back, were both closers in Japan. Jose Leclerc also has the talent, but he is inexperienced and erratic with his command.

Kevin Jepsen, who is in camp on a Minor League contract, had a brief stint as the Twins' closer from 2015-16, and he has pitched well this spring. The trick would be to wedge him into a bullpen that appears to be full when long reliever/spot starter Jesse Chavez is included.

Multiple relievers could get closing opportunities until Lincecum is ready or somebody seizes the job. The Rangers have not had a closer make it through a full season in the role since Joe Nathan from 2012-13.

"Most closers grow into the ability to go three days in a row, four if need be," Banister said. "The ability to sit and wait for a closing opportunity and still be effective, that takes time to grow into that and be effective. We don't have anybody just yet that is like that."

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.

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