Changes to rotation changes face of Rangers’ bullpen


Lance Iversen-USA TODAY

During the off-season heading into the 2014 season, the odds of Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross moving from the Texas Rangers’ bullpen to the starting rotation were slim to quite slim.

After all, they had Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Martin Perez and Alexi Ogando projected as their top five.

Well, as of this point, only one of those players – Perez, the 22-year old left-hander — will make the Opening Day rotation.  Injuries to Darvish, Holland and Harrison have landed them on the disabled list and ineffectiveness has landed Ogando back in the bullpen.

Scheppers and Ross have indeed been moved into the rotation at this point, and that means there is going to be some new faces in the bullpen, at least to start out the season.

One new face, Pedro Figueroa, has already been named.  Figueroa, 28, was claimed off waivers by the Rangers in January after he was designated for assignment by the Tampa Bay Rays.

Figueroa — who started his career in the Oakland Athletics’ farm system — has pitched in all of 26 Major League games, but he will start the season as the second left-hander in the bullpen next to Neal Cotts.

Manager Ron Washington has already declared Cotts as the main seventh-inning reliever, hoping he can resume the dominance he displayed in 2013 and bridge the gap to closer Joakim Soria.

Cotts was 8-3 last season with a superb ERA of 1.11 in 58 games.  The hope is that he can shut down the seventh inning – and sometimes even the eighth inning – and hand things over to the aforementioned Ogando.

Ogando — who was a lead candidate for the rotation even before injuries began ravaging it — was highly inadequate this spring as was moved back to the bullpen, where he has been most valuable for the Rangers in the past.

That leads us to the man that was named the closer just this past Saturday, a name that certainly would have surprised a lot of people before Spring Training began:  Joakim Soria.

Neftali Feliz was the prime candidate to replace the departed Joe Nathan as the closer, but his ineffectiveness during the spring — combined with Soria’s sharpness — made the decision easy for Washington.

Feliz rarely reached higher than 93 MPH during Spring Training and has since been demoted to AAA Round Rock, where the Rangers hope he can rebuild his arm strength.

Jason Frasor was re-signed this past off-season and is a shoe-in to continue coming out of the ‘pen for the Rangers, but that still leaves two spots remaining.

Still on the active roster are Michael Kirkman, Shawn Tolleson and Seth Rosin, who was claimed off waivers on Wednesday from the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Two of those three should be able to grab the final two spots.

Since the Rangers currently have southpaws Cotts and Figueroa named to the bullpen, there won’t be a need to keep a certain one of the three based on which side of the mound they throw from.

Of course, Rangers’ brass could throw us all a curveball like they did by naming 23-year old Nick Martinez as the No. 5 starter.  Martinez wasn’t on the active roster and hasn’t pitched above AA Frisco, where he was set to return when the season began.

But the team saw enough of Martinez to boldly let go of Tommy Hanson and give him the nod, giving way to an Opening Day rotation that none of us could have possibly foreseen.

Yes, the starting rotation has some new names and faces to it – and lots and lots of question marks – but the bullpen will have some new names and faces in it as well, with just about as many question marks.