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Rangers' bullpen layout hinges on Bush's role

Claudio, Kela also among several hard throwers in relief group
MLB.com @Sullivan_Ranger

ARLINGTON -- The Matt Bush debate will rage possibly to the end of Spring Training and beyond as the Rangers mull the wisdom of moving him from the bullpen to the rotation.

The other option is to give him another shot at being their closer. Those two issues are central to the club as it works on rebuilding the bullpen for the 2018 season.

ARLINGTON -- The Matt Bush debate will rage possibly to the end of Spring Training and beyond as the Rangers mull the wisdom of moving him from the bullpen to the rotation.

The other option is to give him another shot at being their closer. Those two issues are central to the club as it works on rebuilding the bullpen for the 2018 season.

Bush is eager for the chance to start and the Rangers are going to give him that opportunity, despite having mixed results with other relievers in the past. The question is if Bush would be able to handle the role after spending the past two seasons as a reliever. Prior to that, he was out of baseball for four years.

If Bush stays in the bullpen, the Rangers still need to decide on a closer. Alex Claudio handled the role in the second half of last season and performed admirably. He just doesn't throw hard enough to fulfill the stereotypical requirements of a present-day closer.

Rangers' rotation set for 2018, but flexible

The Rangers have the candidates, they just don't have someone with an extended track record of handling that role. MLB.com is taking a look at the projected bullpen of all 30 teams ahead of Spring Training. Here's how the Rangers might stack up:

BULLPEN IF SEASON STARTED TODAY
Alex Claudio, LHP
Matt Bush, RHP
Jake Diekman, LHP
Keone Kela, RHP
Tony Barnette, RHP
Chris Martin, RHP
Jose Leclerc, RHP

Video: OAK@TEX: Claudio induces a grounder for the final out

STRENGTH
Beyond Claudio, the Rangers have the prerequisite number of hard throwers led by Bush, Kela and Leclerc. All have tremendous talent. So does Diekman, who missed five months last season while undergoing three surgical procedures for ulcerative colitis. He is expected to be at full strength this season. Martin returns to the Major Leagues after two outstanding seasons in Japan, and Barnette is back to provide his invaluable ability to pitch at any time during a game. Ricardo Rodriguez and Nick Gardewine provide 40-man roster depth and the Rangers are stockpiling the necessary non-roster depth with right-handers Steve Delabar, Austin Bibens-Dirkx, Paolo Espino, Shawn Tolleson and Kevin Jepsen with more likely to come.

Rangers to employ a balanced, athletic lineup

QUESTION MARK
There is always great unknown with any bullpen just because of the mercurial year-to-year uncertainty involving relief work. The Rangers need Kela to stay healthy and Leclerc to find the elusive command. If that happens, those two could be among the best relievers in the Major Leagues, while Gardewine might not be far behind.

Video: Daniels on using Minor as a starter, not the bullpen

WHAT MIGHT CHANGE
Bush going to the rotation would be the biggest change. If that happens, it could mean that left-hander Mike Minor is going to the bullpen. He was outstanding as a reliever for the Royals in 2017, but he was signed as a free agent to be a starter for the Rangers. However, this is the Major Leagues. Bullpens often change on the fly.

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