A point of emphasis for the Rangers' pitching staff in 2021 was to limit walks. Manager Chris Woodward would rather a pitcher get hit around over guys giving out free passes.
That sentiment has apparently stuck with the pitchers as well. Heading into Sunday afternoon’s game, the Rangers are ranked No. 4 in MLB, surrendering just 53 walks through the first 21 games of the season. That’s compared to a 2020 pitching staff that was tied at No. 20 with 81 walks in a 60-game season.
“I don't like the walks,” said pitching coach Doug Mathis. “Winning pitching staffs, they don’t walk guys. You look at what good pitching staffs do in the history of the game and that's a common theme. Corrections you make are a lot easier when you're talking about the plate. If we’re trying to get guys to throw strikes on top of the other things we’re trying to do, that’s an uphill battle.”
The whole mindset of the staff is to attack the strike zone and make the other team beat them, Mathis said.
Mathis noted that last season, pitchers might have struggled because they were trying too hard to make too much happen. That led to them not really valuing the idea of minimizing walks as much as they should have.
This season, the coaching staff is instilling it into pitchers that they need to attack the strike zone if they want a spot on the staff.
“We’re showing them exactly what that looks like and showing them the numbers on it,” Mathis said. “And the guys kind of figure it out on their own. They know they want to pitch in good counts because hitters, no matter who you are or how good you are, on 0-2, 1-2 and 2-2 counts, they don't do a lot of damage.
“Obviously good hitters get hits, but it's flipped a lot in our favor as pitchers if we just try to stay in good counts. Then, if we're in good counts, the walk rate goes way down. so that's just the byproduct of it .”
Attacking the zone has come at a price, though. The Rangers have also given up more home runs than any other team in the American League (31) and rank second in the Majors behind the D-backs (33).
Rangers starter Mike Foltynewicz also leads MLB in home runs surrendered (eight). Per Statcast, Foltynewicz ranks in the bottom 20 percentile in maximum exit velocity, hard-hit rate and barrel percentage.
Mathis said Foltynewicz specifically is still getting back into the full-season grind and is working back to feeling good about himself on the mound after spending the majority of the 2020 season at the Braves' alternate site without playing live games. That includes being “snake bitten” by those home runs.
“He’s just missing some locations and missing some execution,” Mathis said. “He’s throwing the ball great, he's just been a little bit unlucky. It's still hard contact, so there's adjustments that we need to make there, but overall it's just some execution that I think will get better as the season goes on.”
Sborz, who was acquired this offseason in a trade with the Dodgers, was on the Opening Day roster, but was optioned on April 17 when Joely Rodriguez was activated from the injured list. Sborz went 1-1 with a 7.20 ERA over six relief appearances for the Rangers this season.
Cody opened the season as one of the Rangers’ Top 30 prospects per MLB Pipeline, but has since graduated from prospect status. He has an 0-2 record and 7.94 ERA through seven relief appearances.