Amid struggles, Leclerc to stay Rangers' closer

Woodward believes right-hander may be tipping his pitches

April 22nd, 2019

ARLINGTON -- Rangers manager Chris Woodward said closer may be tipping his pitches.

The Rangers haven’t figured out just how, but they know something is amiss after Leclerc struggled in the ninth inning of an 11-10 victory over the Astros on Sunday afternoon.

“They have to have something on him, because he’s not getting the chase on those borderline pitches that he normally does with his changeup,” Woodward said. “We thought something was going on before, that teams had something on him as far as tipping his pitches. I believe that, because guys are dead on his fastball and not swinging at his changeup. You saw the results last year, when you don’t know it’s coming.”

Leclerc entered the ninth inning to protect an 11-8 lead, and George Springer led off with a home run. Leclerc walked Alex Bregman, then retired Michael Brantley on a flyout to right and struck out Carlos Correa. But he walked Yuli Gurriel, Josh Reddick and Jose Altuve consecutively to force in a run. All three walks came on full-count pitches.

Shawn Kelley came in and struck out Robinson Chirinos to get the save.

Woodward said Leclerc is throwing 97 mph with his fastball and 82 with his changeup. That should be trouble for a hitter, unless they know what’s coming.

“That’s a 15 mph difference with movement, and you’re going to be able to take it?” Woodward said. “Obviously, late in the game, there were some guys who didn’t. But there were too many easy takes and too many good swings at 97; there is something going on there. Hopefully, we can figure it out.”

Leclerc said he doesn’t think he is tipping his pitches.

“I’m trying to do too much,” Leclerc said. “Everything feels good. I think I’m trying too hard to show I can do the best that I can ... trying to be too perfect.”

It’s clear Leclerc has been erratic with his fastball. He threw 14 heaters in the ninth, and only four were strikes. One of the strikes was the home run by Springer.

“That has been the issue the whole year,” Woodward said. “He is missing up and missing armside. We have to get him back in line from a mechanical standpoint, just be able to trust it, especially in those situations. We want him to be the guy we hand the ball to and can handle any moment.”

Leclerc has a 7.88 ERA with a 1.88 WHIP in 10 appearances. He has struck out nine in eight innings, but also walked seven

That’s a complete reversal from the end of last season, when Leclerc did not allow a run in his last 18 appearances. In fact, he allowed only two hits and six walks while striking out 29.

But Woodward is not considering changing closers right now.

“One thing I told Jose after the game is, 'The ball is going right back in your hand tomorrow in that situation,'” Woodward said. “I feel bad for him, he’s going through a tough situation, some bad outings. But as long he’s healthy enough, I’m putting the ball back in his hands.”