Alexi Ogando has been one of the most efficient and effective assets on the Texas Rangers pitching staff over the last three seasons. That, combined with his versatility, makes him a very valuable commodity coming into the 2014 season.
But what will his role be?
The plan, at the moment, is the same as it was last off-season. The Rangers fully expect Ogando to be stretched out and ready to compete for the No. 5 spot in the starting rotation.
The problem doesn’t lie in his ability – Ogando is 26-13 with a 3.12 ERA as a big leaguer – but it’s his health as a starter that is a concern. Ogando first became a starter in 2011, going 13-8 with a 3.51 ERA and being selected to the All-Star team that year.
He wore down as the season hit the stretch run, however, and he was moved to the bullpen for the playoffs. The move wasn’t made simply because he was ineffective, but the Rangers were blessed with a starting four of C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, Derek Holland and Matt Harrison.
Ogando ended up becoming an incredibly valuable bullpen piece, as he was the bridge between the starting pitcher and the setup man and closer. Washington was able to shorten each game in the playoffs, and it eliminated the burden of the starting pitcher having to go deep in the ballgame to give the team a better chance to win.
All the starters had to do was give Washington six innings, and he would simply turn the game over to Ogando, Mike Adams and Neftali Feliz at that point. The value of Ogando was evident in the 2011 ALCS, when he flat out chewed up Detroit Tigers hitters, pitching in four games and going 7.2 innings while only giving up one run and striking out ten.
Ogando has a lot of value either way you slice it, because he can start or pitch in any role coming out of the bullpen. The closer job is wide open going into Spring Training this season, as Joe Nathan has departed and signed with the Tigers. The organization wants Feliz to earn the closer role back; Tanner Scheppers is also a candidate to close, as is Joakim Soria.
Ogando obviously has more value in the starting rotation, but I honestly wonder if he will ever be able to pitch a full, strong season without going on the disabled list or wearing down toward the end of the season. I do, however, recall it taking Holland a little bit of time to round into top form as a starter as well.
In my own dream scenario, I would like to see Nick Tepesch take the next step in his development and snag the No. 5 role, which would move Ogando into what would easily be one of the best bullpens in the game. With Ogando, Feliz, Scheppers, Soria, Jason Frasor, Robbie Ross and Neal Cotts as the other lefty, the Rangers’ bullpen can be dominant.
The other dream scenario would be Colby Lewis returning to form and taking the No. 5 spot, as he continues to recover from surgery to remove bone chips from his hip. That would allow Tepesch to continue to develop one more year in the minors. Wilmer Font will also get a chance to take the job in the spring, but he may be at least one year away.
No matter his role, Ogando will be highly valued and depended upon by Washington and general manager Jon Daniels. We all just have to hope he can maintain his usual
high level of pitching throughout the entirety of the year.
The big and most important thing heading into 2014, however, is that the Rangers have a difficult decision to make regarding the No. 5 spot in the rotation when the season is ready to begin.