Rangers’ Bullpen Should Not Be Overlooked During Upswing
The history of Texas Rangers baseball has caused Rangers fans to have an obsession with offense and power. But, while the Rangers’ recent offensive onslaught has garnered much of the public’s attention, fans should stop and appreciate how quickly the team has transformed its bullpen from a liability to a strength.
Bullpens are one of the most unpredictable entities in baseball. Numerous teams have seen a dominant bullpen fall apart over the course of one offseason, even when many of the same principals remain on the roster.
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However, it is unusual for a team to successfully remake its bullpen in the first two months of the season but that is what the Rangers have done. With no officially defined roles and no big names, the Texas bullpen has come a stabilizing force for the surging Rangers.
Only three members of the opening day pen are currently on the 25-man active roster (Shawn Tolleson, Keone Kela, and Anthony Bass who is the teams long reliever). Some of the turnover has been due to injuries to players like Neftali Feliz but most of the opening day pen proved ineffective and replaceable (Phil Klein, Roman Mendez and Logan Verrett just to name a few).
The resurrection of the Texas bullpen began at a moment that would normally be a crushing blow, the loss of their closer Neftali Feliz to injury (an axillary abscesses near his right armpit). Admittedly, Feliz had not been good posting a 5.09 ERA with three blown saves.
However, the closer is the rudder of any bullpen. Even if he struggles, he is the starting point from which a bullpen is structured. When Feliz went on the disabled list, manager Jeff Banister declared there would be no defined roles among the relief pitchers meaning he was not committing to having a specific pitcher for the 7th – 9th innings as many managers prefer.
Since then, Banister’s management of the bullpen has been tremendous, though his actions have defined one pitcher’s role. Shawn Tolleson from Allen, Texas has converted all six of his save attempts and unlike Feliz, he has had quick and tidy saves lowering the blood pressure of Rangers fans everywhere.
Tolleson showed promise at the end of 2014 and has built upon that showing this year to the tune of a 2.49 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 25.1 innings pitched. More importantly, since moving into the unofficial closer’s role, he has not allowed a run in seven appearances.
The return of a familiar face, Tanner Scheppers, has also been a blessing for the Rangers. The right-hander began his career in the pen but attempted to become a starter in 2014, an experiment that landed him on the DL for the majority of the year. Though Sheppers has an ERA over 5.00 this year, he is a power arm which was lacking in the pen. He can neutralize right-handed hitters and he has experience in the big leagues which most of the Rangers relievers lack.
As he continues his return from a DL stint this season, Scheppers is looking more comfortable on the mound and seems to be returning to the form he showed in 2013 when he was the primary 8th inning pitcher.
One of the most inexperienced pitchers on the team has been the biggest revelation of the 2015 bullpen. Drafted in the 12th round of the 2012 draft, Keone Kela from Washington has been on the active roster all season.
At the age of 22, when most of his baseball peers are languishing in the minor leagues, Kela has a 4-1 record and a 1.82 ERA in 24.2 innings pitched. He has not given up a run in his last seven appearances and has seen his WHIP (Walks and Hits per Innings Pitched) drop to 0.71.
It seems like the no roles bullpen is taking shape with Kela as the pseudo set-up man and Tolleson as the closer. Meanwhile, unknowns like Jon Edwards (0.00 ERA in six appearances), Ross Ohlendorf (1-0, 3.52 ERA in eight games), and lefty Sam Freeman (the only southpaw in the pen) have come together to form a useful and as of late, formidable group of relievers.
While celebrating the exploits of third baseman Joey Gallo, the excellent season of designated hitter Prince Fielder or the hype surrounding rookie starting pitcher Chi Chi Gonzalez don’t overlook the revamped bullpen. Without the improvement of the Rangers’ relievers, many of the heroics of the Rangers’ stars during the May turnaround would have been for naught.