Path to Leclerc littered with strikeouts

Rangers have built swing-and-miss bullpen to carry load from starter to closer

March 24th, 2019

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- It takes 27 outs to win a baseball game, and for Texas, outs 16-24 may be the most important this season.

That's the stretch between the day's starter and closer . The importance of relief pitching has grown in recent seasons, and the Rangers' rebuilt bullpen could face an especially challenging season given the nature of the rotation.

In , and , Texas has three starters coming back from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery. The Rangers see and as potential 200-inning workhorses, but the bullpen’s ability to cover anything and everything from the fifth inning on is going to be critical.

“Holding the lead after five ... getting us to Leclerc is going to be big, for sure,” manager Chris Woodward said. “I think that's every team's difficulty, those 6-7-8 innings, getting guys you can trust and match up.”

The Rangers are expected to carry eight relievers to spread out the workload. Right-hander and left-hander return, joined by free agent right-handers and .

The Rangers also brought back righty , after trading him to the Cubs last June. He was outstanding in Chicago, going 2-1 with a 1.15 ERA and 0.79 WHIP in 32 games down the stretch. That leaves two more likely openings.

“I like our guys,” Woodward said. “We have quality righties that can get out lefties, we have a lefty [Springs] that can punch anybody out, so what we have right now, I like. And then the pieces we can potentially add at the end of camp are pretty good. I like it.”

The Rangers are looking for more swing-and-miss potential from their relievers. Last year, Texas relievers got swinging strikes on 21.3 percent of their pitches, the lowest percentage in the American League. Their 8.17 strikeouts per nine innings were the fourth lowest in the AL.

Kelley has averaged 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings in his career. Chavez averages 8 K's per nine innings in his career, but fanned 9.7 per nine during his terrific run with the Cubs last season. Gomez was at 9.7 with the White Sox last year. Springs averaged 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings in the Minor Leagues and Martin was 9.3 during his two years in Japan.

Nobody is more dominating than Leclerc, who averaged 13.3 strikeouts per nine last season. He was also 12-for-12 in save opportunities after taking over as closer at the beginning of August.

“What they are about is awesome,” Chavez said. “Everybody is all about going out there with their guts on the line. Awesome. So far, everybody going right at them. I think we are a lot deeper in the fact that everybody can go multiple innings. That’s why the bullpen is constructed the way it is this year. Our job is to make it as light as we can on the starters. We are a little more equipped to handle it this year.”