Will the Rangers strengthen their bullpen?

May 21st, 2023

This story was excerpted from Kennedi Landry’s Rangers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

ARLINGTON -- The start to the Bruce Bochy era in Texas has gone relatively smooth. Good hitting, good starting pitching and…… well, maybe not entirely smooth. 

The Rangers have been in almost every game this season, with their record sitting at 28-17 following Saturday's win against the Rockies. 

But the record could -- and arguably should -- be much better if not for a slew of bullpen collapses. Last week’s loss to the Braves was the sixth time the Rangers have held a lead entering the seventh inning, only to end up losing. 

“The bullpen, for the first three weeks of the season, was one of the best in baseball,” Bochy said. “Everything was clicking. Guys were coming in and getting it done. We've had hiccups, there’s no getting around it. It’s a credible concern when it’s happened as much as it has. You can’t sugar coat that.”

For all the bullpen’s issues,  -- the only offseason bullpen addition -- has emerged as a quality closer. Though he has a 2.93 ERA, four of his six allowed runs this season came during one bad outing, as he’s secured eight saves in nine opportunities.

The issue has become all the other innings to bridge the gap with Smith and the Rangers’ rotation. This season, Texas has allowed 79 total runs from the seventh inning onward, which trails only five other teams.

After strong starts, and  have both struggled with their control and command recently, though Leclerc seemed to get back on track after a scoreless ninth inning against the Rockies on Friday, lowering his ERA to under 3.00. 

“He looked good, didn’t he?” Bochy said postgame that night. “He had his fastball, slider and changeup going. He looks like he's getting back on track with this and his last time out. He threw the ball well. I probably need to use him more, to be honest. It’s good seeing him throw the ball like that.”

Elsewhere in the bullpen, was elite to start the season but has since filled ’s spot in the rotation while the ace is on the injured list. was solid until surrendering the game-winning homer against the Braves. He joins the club as no other reliever that's been with the club all year has an ERA under 3.00.

“Every bullpen is different,” Bochy said. “We’re definitely trying to adjust to it. It hasn’t gone quite as well as we would like, but I do think at the end of the day, we have the arms, and it’s gonna be a good bullpen.”

No matter what happens down the stretch, it’s an issue that the Rangers will no doubt address at the Trade Deadline in July/August, but until then, there aren’t too many internal solutions.

and were recently recalled from Triple-A Round Rock following  getting designated for assignment. Both have seen limited action, though Barlow hasn’t allowed a run in two appearances.

Rangers bullpen ERAs:

Smith: 2.93 in 15 ⅓ IP
Burke: 3.93 in 18 ⅓ IP
Hérnandez : 7.02 in 16 ⅔ IP
Josh Sborz: 3.60 in 15 IP
Leclerc: 2.77 in 13 IP
Cole Ragans: 5.59 in 19 ⅓ IP
King: 2.70 in 3 ⅓ IP
Barlow: 0.00 in 1 ⅓ IP

and -- both still starters in theory -- are on the 60-day IL but will be eligible for return by early June. They are both rehabbing in Arizona. is back down in Round Rock after opening the season with a 10.29 ERA in the big leagues. He’s allowed two runs in 17 ⅔ innings in Triple-A, good for a 1.02 ERA. only pitched four innings in the big leagues this season, allowing two runs on four hits and two walks but joined Hearn back in Round Rock earlier this week.

And that’s all the 40-man options.

In Triple-A, Chae Lee (4.24 ERA) and Grant Anderson (4.07 ERA between Frisco and Round Rock) could be options, but neither is exactly blowing Pacific Coast League hitters out of the water.

Until the Deadline nears, the Rangers will have to work with what they’ve got and hope it doesn’t cost too many more wins down the stretch.

“Nobody’s putting pressure on them like they are on themselves,” Bochy said. “They want to do all they can to help out the club. It’s human nature. …. We're trying to get these guys back into the heat of the battle and being who they are. We have the guys who can do it. They've done it. Once you've done it, you should know inside you can do it again. It’s about confidence. That's what it is.”