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Will Leclerc assume closer role for Rangers?

@Sullivan_Ranger
May 20, 2019

ARLINGTON -- Time to answer some burning questions about the Rangers' pitching staff with José Leclerc pitching well and the closer situation up in the air. Are the Rangers ready to put Leclerc back in the closer’s role? Manager Chris Woodward is not ready to anoint anybody as the closer.

ARLINGTON -- Time to answer some burning questions about the Rangers' pitching staff with José Leclerc pitching well and the closer situation up in the air.

Are the Rangers ready to put Leclerc back in the closer’s role?
Manager Chris Woodward is not ready to anoint anybody as the closer. Shawn Kelley is expected to come off the injured list on Tuesday and Woodward still has confidence in Chris Martin -- even though he had a blown save on Sunday afternoon. Woodward said he could use all three in that role.

At some point, Leclerc will likely take over as closer. But Woodward also likes him in other roles, including opener and middle relief. Leclerc was dominant on Sunday -- striking out five of six batters in the fifth and sixth innings against the Cardinals. Woodward saw that as a huge part of the Rangers' 10-inning win.

Will the Rangers continue to use the opener?
Yes. The concept of using a short reliever for one inning to start the game is here to stay. Woodward likes it. He won’t use it when Mike Minor or Lance Lynn pitches, but it is in play for the other three spots in the rotation.

It will come almost without warning. Woodward said it is difficult to plan the opener ahead of time. Much depends on who is used out of the bullpen on previous days leading up to the game being considered for an opener.

Why does Woodward like the opener?
Because it allows him to use a power reliever against the top of the opposing team’s lineup and then let the starter ease into a rhythm and get on a roll against the lower part of the order.

Once the MLB Draft is over June 3-5, free-agent pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel will no longer cost teams a Draft pick if they sign one of those two. Will that push the Rangers toward pursuing either one?
Not likely. General manager Jon Daniels said the Rangers “won’t do anything different” with Major League free agents once the Draft has passed.

Are the Rangers looking outside the organization for relief help?
Yes. Daniels said the club is exploring external options, but it won’t do anything that will jeopardize the long-term vision for the organization. The Rangers' first choice is to go with their young relievers, but they’re keeping their options open.

What is the plan for Shelby Miller?
The Rangers have taken him out of the rotation and want to see how he handles the bullpen. The club thinks Miller’s power arm could be an effective weapon in two- to three-inning relief appearances. They are waiting for a low-leverage situation, so they can ease him into the role. But his first relief appearance should be coming soon.

Is Ariel Jurado staying in the rotation?
Yes. But the Rangers are going to adjust their rotation for a three-game series against the Angels that starts on Friday. Drew Smyly will pitch on Friday, Mike Minor will go Saturday and Jurado is scheduled for Sunday. The Rangers are planning to push Lance Lynn back to Monday against the Mariners to split up Minor and Lynn. Woodward said it’s tough to get creative for three straight games with the other starters when Minor and Lynn are pitching back-to-back games.

Where does Taylor Hearn stand?
Hearn was shut down from throwing after experiencing tightness in his left elbow during his start on April 25. He is in Arizona and he is just beginning to resume light throwing. This could be a 6-8 week buildup similar to Spring Training.

What about Edinson Volquez?
The veteran right-hander had a clean MRI on Friday and he is ready to start playing catch again. He also is looking at a 6-8 week buildup before he will be an option at the Major League level.

Rangers beat
• Outfielder Scott Heineman, who is recovering from offseason surgery on his left shoulder, has been assigned to Triple-A Nashville on medical rehab assignment.

• Right-hander Reed Garrett, a Rule 5 Draft pick, has been returned to the Rangers. He had a 1.04 ERA in his first seven appearances with the Tigers, but a 17.55 ERA in his past six outings. The Rangers are eager to get him back.

“I was not expecting that when he made the team in Spring Training,” Daniels said. “He hit a rough stretch the past couple of weeks, but that’s not unusual for a rookie reliever. We’re going to send him to Nashville, let him settle in, and he could be an option for us later in the summer.”

• Shin-Soo Choo’s first-inning leadoff home run on Sunday was the 28th of his career and 17th with the Rangers. Ian Kinsler holds the club record for leadoff home runs in the first inning with 29.

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.