We are now less than two weeks awy from the Rangers opening the season against the defending NL Champion Philadelphia Phillies. The Ranger last night chose to go through a dress rehearsal for the season with most of their Opening Day lineup. They also put some of the bullpen contenders into the late inning roles to see how they would respond. It was a beautiful night game at Camelback Ranch, home of the Dodgers. Jon Gray started for the Rangers and Clayton Kershaw started for the Dodgers. If you want to read more about Jon Gray, Justin Lee wrote about his performance. I will focus more on the lineup and the bullpen.
As mentioned above eight of the nine likely Opening Day starters were in the lineup. The only person missing was Jonah Heim. Mitch Garver started as catcher and Yoshi Tsutsugo started as DH. The starters played through the sixth inning.
Nathaniel Lowe got the scoring underway with a solo home run in the first inning. It was his second home run of the Spring. He ended up with four at-bats on the night and struck out twice in addition to the first-inning home run.
Adolis Garcia destroyed a baseball. He followed up Lowe's home run with a soaring double over-the-head of left-fielder Chris Taylor. It was a lined shot that with just a little more air would have flown well over the fence. He also had four at-bats and was able to work a walk in addition to the first-inning double.
Corey Seager added on another run in the third inning when he hit a solo home run to deep right-center field off of his friend and former teammate Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw in an interview with SNLA after he was taken out of the game made a comment about how Seager now has "bragging rights". Seager continues his ridiculously hot spring with his fourth home run. That was his only hit in four plate appearances last night. It lowered his batting average to .467.
Finally the at-bat of the night came from Bubba Thompson. Thompson came up in the sixth with the bases loaded and the score 2-0 and was facing Jimmy Nelson. Thompson worked the count full and he was able to not swing on a borderline pitch and take the walk and force a run in. One of the issues Thompson has to work on if he is going to stay in the majors is his ability to get on base. That includes taking walks. His strikeout-to-walk ratio last season in his limited time was 56 strikeouts to 7 walks. That ratio needs to not be so drastically different. Taking a walk in that situation shows improvement.
Josh Sborz was the first pitcher called upon after Jon Gray. He started off by walking Miguel Vargas. Vargas. Vargas was then thrown out by Mitch Garver on a great tag by Corey Seager. He then got James Outman to fly out. Then with two outs he was facing catcher Hunter Feduccia. Sborz who is battling to stay on the roster gave up a hard-hit triple to Feduccia. He didn't let that get him down though and bounced back to strikeout first baseman Devin Mann to end the inning. Definitely an appearance Sborz can build upon in these last days of camp.
He was followed up by Dominic Leone and Zach Littell. These are two of the veterans who are battling for that spot in the bullpen. Both went one inning and neither allowed a run.
They were followed up by rookie Marc Church and I want to focus on his appearance. It is very much a surprise that he is still in camp. Church is an 18th-round pick in the 2019 draft. He has not pitched above Double-A. He is still in camp though and was called upon in the 8th inning last night of a 3-0 game against the LA Dodgers. Church was put into a somewhat high-pressure situation and he responded well. Church probably does not make this team, but the Rangers really like him and it would not surprise me if he is in the majors for the majority of this season.
Last night though Church was brought in against most of the Dodgers back-up players to pitch the 8th. He started off by striking out former Ranger Yonny Hernandez, walked Ryan Ward, and gave up a single to David Freitas. At that point he had the tying run at the plate and he threw a wild pitch that got away from Sam Huff. Both runners moved up to second and third. He was up against center-fielder Drew Avans. Church was working the inside corner with his slider on lefty-hitting Avans. He finally got a pitch right there on the corner and up enough to be a strike and Avans hit a fly ball to left fielder Angel Aponte that allowed the runner on third to score. Bochy then came and took him out of the game. Church showed calmness out there on the mound that was well beyond his age of 21.
Jose Leclerc should have been in Miami this past week pitching for the Dominican Republic. He was held back after suffering a strained neck injury early on in camp. Last night marked his second appearance since coming back from the injury. Both of his appearances have been in the ninth inning. Last night he was coming in for an actual save. The score was 3-1 and he finished up the eighth inning after being brought on for Marc Church.
The ninth inning was more of a struggle for Leclerc. He did strike out three batters in the ninth. He allowed a double to Bradley Zimmer, then his second strikeout followed up with a walk to Steven Duggar, then another walk to Yonny Hernandez. That loaded up the bases and put the winning run on first base. Ryan Ward came to the plate and battled with Leclerc. It was a six-pitch at-bat that ended with an 0-2 strikeout on the 32nd pitch of the inning for Leclerc. It was a nerve-inducing appearance by Leclerc that ended with a win. Bochy has not indicated yet who will be the closer, but if last night was an indicator, then it will be Jose Leclerc who will start the season as the closer.
There will more dress rehearsals over the next 13 days. Last night was just the latest test of many that the Rangers will undergo before the season officially gets underway on March 30th.