José Leclerc is one of several candidates manager Chris Woodward will consider to close games this season, but the right-hander, despite having done the job in the past, is no lock.
“We might use him in that role,” Woodward said. “I definitely would like to use him in more leverage innings. I don’t think it’s fair to name anybody the closer right now.”
With less than two weeks remaining until Opening Day, the Rangers have some decisions to make in this area. First, they have to decide if they want to anoint one particular pitcher as their closer.
There’s no guarantee Woodward will have something official to reveal come April 1. He identified Leclerc, Matt Bush and Ian Kennedy as candidates to close out games. Bush and Kennedy are both in camp on Minor League deals.
Woodward also pointed out that it often makes more sense to let matchups determine who pitches and when, a method teams have been employing more in recent years. Often, a team’s “closer” will be called on in the seventh or eighth inning, if it’s deemed a high-leverage situation.
“I would love to have that option. Instead of just saying, ‘Hey you're going to pitch the ninth or the eighth or the seventh,’ let's try to be strategic about this,” Woodward said. “The closer may pitch the eighth inning because that's the most difficult inning.”
Of the three, Leclerc has the most recent experience as a closer. He held the job for the Rangers in 2019, but he struggled, and a shoulder injury wiped out his 2020 season.
So if he’s to win the job this year, he’ll have to earn it. In three spring appearances, Leclerc has allowed two earned runs, across 3 2/3 innings. Kennedy has pitched in two Cactus League games, totaling two innings, and Bush has pitched in three. Neither has allowed a run.
Bush, who has closing experience, threw the eighth inning in the Rangers’ 7-2 loss to the Dodgers on Friday. Woodward was effusive with his praise after the game.
“If he is on our team … the way he's throwing the ball right now would suit us to pitch him in pretty high-leverage situations, meaning seven, eight, nine,” Woodward said. “Because I know he can handle it, and I know he's got stuff to get the best hitters in every lineup out.”
Cody struggles in start
Facing arguably the best lineup in baseball, Kyle Cody, Texas' No. 22 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, struggled with command in his brief outing against the Dodgers on Friday.
The right-hander yielded five runs on eight hits over 2 1/3 innings, raising his spring ERA to 9.72.
“My changeup wasn't there,” Cody said. “I felt a good movement on my slider. It’s just these small misses, those guys just have a really good idea of the zone and they don't chase, so that's a learning experience for me. I felt like I had really good control today, but my command just wasn't what I like to do.”
Despite the poor results, Cody said he feels he’s “progressing upwards” in terms of strides he’s making this spring.
“I feel really good, my body feels really good and that's the number one thing is health, for me,” he said. “I'm sure the numbers aren't as good as I'd like them to be, but I feel like my pitches are trending in the right direction. Today wasn't my best performance, but I'm still confident.”
Tickets on sale Monday
Rangers single-game tickets for all March and April games, except the home opener on April 5 vs. the Blue Jays, will go on sale Monday at 10 a.m. CT at texasrangers.com or by calling 972-RANGERS.
The single-game sale includes the two exhibition games against the Brewers, March 29-30, and the remaining 13 regular-season home games in April: April 6-7 vs. Toronto; April 9-10-11 vs. San Diego; April 16-17-18 vs. Baltimore; April 26-27-28 vs. the Los Angeles Angels; April 29-30 vs. Boston.
The Rangers will make certain locations of Globe Life Field “distanced seating” sections, with tickets sold in pods of two and four seats to allow for more space between occupied seats.
Single-game ticket information for the remainder of the Rangers 2021 regular season home schedule will be announced at a later date.
The Rangers will host the Mariners in a night game on Saturday, with first pitch slated for 8:05 p.m. CT. Texas lefty Wes Benjamin, who has allowed one earned run across three outings this spring (two starts), will take the hill for the Rangers. The Mariners will counter with right-hander Robert Duggar.