The Rangers entered the 2021 season planning to use two tandem or piggybacking roles in the pitching rotation. Three weeks into the season, neither have seemed to show themselves best suited for strict tandems.
With Jordan Lyles and Dane Dunning serving as the front half of a tandem, the two right-handers have pitched a combined 30 1/3 innings, through three outings each. The deepest Lyles has gone in a game is 5 2/3 innings, while Dunning went through six full innings in his most recent outing (April 17 vs. Baltimore).
Of the back end of the tandems -- lefties Wes Benjamin and Taylor Hearn -- neither has gone more than three full innings in an outing. Manager Chris Woodward said the lack of innings for the back-end pieces has been mostly because of the efficiency of Lyles and Dunning. He said in Spring Training that he wasn’t going to pull a pitcher who was dealing in a given start, and he’s stuck by that through Dunning’s 14 consecutive scoreless innings.
Lyles, in particular, has been working to get back to a full-time “traditional” starter role, but with Dunning coming off Tommy John surgery in 2019 and pitching just 34 total innings a year ago, it’s unlikely the Rangers extend him too far into games by pitch count.
Woodward said he’s not against Lyles moving forward without a tandem, but it does mostly depend on the quality of his outings, especially over the next few games.
“We're still kind of monitoring to see if he can hold his stuff,” Woodward said about Lyles. “I really like where he's at. I don't really look at it as so much of a tandem, it's just more how many pitches do we feel like is his sweet spot? Is that 80 pitches, can we get him up to 90? Can we get him closer to 100? I think we're still kind of taking it outing by outing to see what makes the most sense. But I like where he's at, he's throwing the ball well.”
And with Benjamin off to the Rangers' alternate training site in Round Rock, Texas, in favor of Joely Rodríguez, who was reinstated from the 10-day injured list, the fate of the tandem roles in general seems shaky. Rodriguez is expected to fill the high-leverage role left by Matt Bush, who was put on the IL with right elbow inflammation.
Lefties Kolby Allard and John King are possible tandem solutions, too. Allard has a 1.80 ERA in five innings of relief this season, while King has a 1.29 ERA across seven innings of his own. Both said they haven’t been asked to fill the vacant tandem role, but are open to doing whatever it takes to help the Rangers win.
Allard, who hasn’t given up a run since his first outing on April 1, said he came into this season with more confidence, something that’s added to his mindset and success on the mound. He posted a 7.75 ERA through 11 games last season.
“I’m just going in and attacking guys, trusting my stuff in the zone,” Allard said. “I think last year there were some times when things were going good and rolling and then when things started getting bad, it was more of a mindset thing of trying to make the perfect pitch, and then it turned into nibbling and then you're falling behind guys. I didn't have that same attack mentality.”
Woodward also mentioned right-handed pitcher Kyle Cody as someone who could potentially follow a tandem.
“I think we might morph into something where we just kind of use a lot of those guys depending on who's available, so it doesn't tie us to keeping that one guy,” Woodward said. “It just allows us to be a little bit more versatile with those guys and, honestly, more strategic.”