State of the staff: Plenty of arms, roles TBD

Rangers flush with options, opportunities after Deadline deals

August 5th, 2021

ARLINGTON -- After the Trade Deadline dominated the Rangers' news cycle for weeks, the club is swiftly moving past those deals. General manager Chris Young called the last two months of this season the “land of opportunity” for players up and down the roster.

And while the trade of Joey Gallo surely left a hole in the Rangers' roster, both at the plate and in the field, the pitching staff received an even larger shakeup. Ace Kyle Gibson, closer Ian Kennedy and reliever Joely Rodríguez were also shipped off at the Deadline, creating a minor staff overhaul.

As the rotation currently stands, the five traditional starters are Taylor Hearn, Kolby Allard, Dane Dunning, Mike Foltynewicz and Jordan Lyles, in no particular order. Rookie right-hander Spencer Howard, who was the main return in the Phillies deal, will make his first start on Thursday in the series finale against the Angels and could factor into a bigger role down the line.

So how does everything shake out for the last two months of the season? Here’s a breakdown:

As noted above, there are five starters who will likely stay in the rotation for the time being, but manager Chris Woodward didn’t deny that things could change sooner rather than later. If Howard pitches phenomenally, if Hearn continues his hot streak, if Foltynewicz continues to struggle -- these are all trends that could make an impact on the state of the pitching staff. There’s a number of reasons things could move around, with five spots and six potential starters.

With a 5.25 ERA across 22 appearances (21 starts), veteran Jordan Lyles has been serviceable, but not the picture of consistency. Either way, he’s done his job for the most part this season, which was to eat up innings every fifth day as younger pitchers continue to develop.

On the other hand, fellow veteran Foltynewicz has struggled mightily, posting a 6.00 ERA in 21 starts, and would probably be the first rotation arm to make a bullpen transition. While the Rangers rely on veteran arms going deep into games, six of Foltynewicz’s starts have lasted four innings or fewer and another five have been just five innings. He’ll need to turn it up a notch to stay, especially with the youth movement providing pressure behind him.

Woodward emphasized that Hearn, Howard and Allard still have a lot to earn when it comes to rotation spots, but he’s liked what they’ve been able to do thus far -- especially Hearn.

Hearn slotted into a scheduled Foltynewicz start on June 25 in Houston, throwing three hitless innings. When taking the first Gibson start after the Deadline, he tossed 3 2/3 innings, allowing two runs in a Rangers win over the Mariners.

“I think as each of these starts go, I'm not saying that [if] they do well, they're gonna stay in or not ... we just may switch a few things up,” Woodward said. “Especially with Hearn throwing as well as he is. With Howard, there's still some uncertainty there. Kolby’s struggled during his last couple outings. We may move things around, or we may not. It's just that we're going to play it day by day and see how Kolby comes out today, see how Howard and Hearn both look tomorrow, and then kind of adjust the next time around [the rotation].”

Dunning, the rookie right-hander acquired in the Lance Lynn deal last winter, was placed on the injured list on Tuesday with right ankle impingement, but is only expected to miss one start. Through his first full big league season, he’s accumulated a 4.07 ERA in 95 innings.

If his injury turns out to be more serious, even more shakeups will come, but Dunning's spot seems pretty secure regardless.

Woodward added that there’s not much need to call up any additional arms from Triple-A as the pitching staff stands right now, but the team isn't against it, should performances dictate a change.

Middle relief
The middle innings are likely where things are the murkiest. With Rodríguez dealt to the Yankees in the Gallo deal and Hearn slotting into the rotation for the time being, there’s a ton of new faces out in the bullpen.

Josh Sborz and Brett Martin have both been with the Rangers' big league club since mid-April and will no doubt continue to hold down most middle-relief innings for the rest of the season, barring injury. Triple-A callups Jimmy Herget, Drew Anderson and Jharel Cotton all impressed in their first MLB appearances of the season, but will definitely need more innings to prove they can stay.

With Kennedy gone, Woodward first said after the Deadline that they would likely try a “closer by committee” approach for save situations, but Joe Barlow is pushing his hand on that decision.

Spencer Patton got the nod there in the first few save situations, blowing one against the Mariners and securing the other against the Angels. He’s been serviceable this season, posting a 3.15 ERA in 21 appearances, but Barlow has been on another level. The right-hander was called up on June 23 and has been nearly lights-out ever since, posting an 0.93 ERA over 11 dominant relief appearances. Heading into play Wednesday, he hadn't allowed a run since July 3.

Patton will continue to get high-leverage innings, and Woodward doesn’t want to rush Barlow into a new role, but it’s clear how things have shifted.

“I think every outing since he's gotten called up, he just continues to impress,” Woodward said. “His ability to execute has been remarkable. It's impressive. ... Listen, if he keeps throwing like this, I'm gonna have no choice but to [make him the closer]. We'll see where it goes from here.”