Opening Day is getting closer and closer and the Rangers still have pitching concerns to deal with. Aside from three spots in the starting rotation that they need to fill officially, they have an entire bullpen as well. While the club has already given Alexi Ogando the nod that he’ll be in the bullpen, his role is uncertain at this time; however, there are a lot of players in contention for spots in the bullpen – some will make it and some won’t. See my predictions after the jump as well as the five that have made the bullpen so far.
Although Feliz has been nothing but impressive this spring as a starter especially since acquiring a cutball pitch, he is not going to be in the starting rotation. He will join Ogando in the bullpen as the team’s official closer for 2011. So that’s one spot locked up in the bullpen.
Alexi Ogando has already been placed in the bullpen by the Rangers. He was stretched out this spring just like Nefty, but the Rangers decided their need was for him in the bullpen. His exact role has not yet been determined but it won’t be as closer since Nefty will assume that role. He’ll likely be the set-up man. That’s the second spot locked up.
Left-handed Darren Oliver will remain in the bullpen as a relief pitcher locking up the third spot as will right-handed Darren O’Day as a reliever locking up the fourth spot in the bullpen neither of whom have had the best spring. Oliver has pitched three innings in which he has a 3.00 ERA by allowing 3 hits and 3 runs. O’Day has pitched seven innings in which he has allowed 16 hits and 8 runs with an ugly 10.29 ERA. However, he hasn’t walked a single batter and has struck out six.
Oliver will possibly be joined by 41-year-old veteran Arthur Rhodes especially if Feliz makes his way into the rotation. He hasn’t had the most impressive spring with an ERA of 6.75 in 4 innings in which he allowed four hits and 3 runs; however, as a veteran, he could prove to be important as another left-handed pitcher in the bullpen and if he can pitch like he has in the previous few seasons, there will be nothing to worry about. *The Rangers ended up confirming on Thursday that Rhodes will be in the bullpen.*
Michael Kirkman went into spring vying for a spot in the rotation but started only a single game this spring in which the San Diego Padres crushed him. In 11 innings pitched, he has an ERA of 5.56 and allowed 15 hits and 13 runs, 11 of which were earned. He struck out nine batters while walking three. Sure, just because he had one bad appearance doesn’t mean that there wasn’t hope, but was definitely at the bottom of the list and the Rangers must have decided that he wasn’t needed sending him to AAA Round Rock yesterday.
RHP Dave Bush was looking to make the starting rotation or at least find himself in the bullpen but I doubt either will happen. His stats haven’t necessarily been totally lacking but they haven’t been entirely impressive either. In 8 innings pitched, Bush has a 4.50 ERA in which he has allowed 9 hits and four runs as well as two homers. He has struck out five batters and has walked four. If he doesn’t make the bullpen, he’ll likely find himself being called up as a spot starter.
25-year-old RHP Pedro Strop could potentially be a set-up man. He has a 95 mph fastball as well as a slider that can take batters out like that. His ERA is 2.25 in his eight innings this spring and he has struck out 10 batters while only walking one. He would have been ideal for a closer role had that become necessary but with Feliz back in the bullpen, it’s not. Strop, if he makes it into the bullpen, he could very well take over the role as the right-handed relief pitcher that the Rangers lack.
Then there is Mark Lowe. Lowe experienced injury related issues in 2010 and the Rangers were hopefully that he could bounce back from that and bring his late-game veteran experience to the bullpen. However, it has been apparent that he has been unable to recovery completely from his injury and has had an ERA that is appalling – 14.14. In his seven innings pitched, he struck out four batters and walked five while allowing 14 hits and 12 runs. From his performance this spring, I don’t see the Rangers finding a spot for him in the bullpen. He needs time in the Minor Leagues to develop his pitch, mechanics and velocity before he can make it in the Bigs.
Finally, the guy that I think will probably sum up the Rangers’ bullpen, RHP Mason Tobin, who is a Rule 5 draft pick from the LA Angels. Tobin had Tommy John surgery after getting injured following just two short innings pitched in 2009. His injury also led to undergo, on two separate occasions, nerve transportation surgery. If the 23-year-old isn’t offered a spot on the Major League roster, he’ll have to offered back to the Angels for 25 grand but he’s had a great spring not giving up a run.
With five of the bullpen spots locked, the Rangers now need two relievers – a long man and a right-handed pitcher. There’s plenty of options left – some of which weren’t even included in this outlook. Some will be sent back down to the Minors, but there are still two spots open and two spots to fill.
Looking at the bullpens in the American League, the Texas Rangers were by far one of the most superior. This bullpen is likely going to remain the same for the 2011 MLB season and will once again be one of the best in the league.