Texas Rangers lineup does it again, but a reliever is the real story

Seattle Mariners v Texas Rangers
Seattle Mariners v Texas Rangers / Sam Hodde/GettyImages

The Texas Rangers scored more than 10 runs again, they had another 5-run inning, and they picked up another win on Saturday against the Seattle Mariners. They have done each of those so many times now that I think we just almost expect it to happen.

One thing that was unexpected was the two innings Jose Leclerc pitched today. It is not that he pitched two innings, but how well he pitched in those two innings. He struck out four, walked none, and kept the Mariners scoreless. The demoted closer has been working his way back from having serious control issues. On Saturday Leclerc pitched with confidence and was very effective. I want to look at how he did it, really discuss what has changed from earlier in the season, and if Leclerc is back.

Texas Rangers' Jose Leclerc and his recipe for success

Leclerc is not a pitcher who will ever have pinpoint control. He just cannot miss by as much as he was earlier in the season. Leclerc has to be able to locate his fastball and cutter in and around the strike zone. That is what he did today. He leaned heavily on his fastball and cutter and had great success with those two pitches. His fastball showed increased velocity and his cutter was spinning up in the zone. The pitch chart from today shows that he had enough command of his fastball and cutter to help out his secondary pitches.

The slider which was mostly out of the zone, but he did get hitters to chase three of those sliders. When he was pitching early in the season he was missing by so much with his fastball that he could not even throw his secondary pitches, because hitters were not going to offer at them. Today was an ideal appearance by Leclerc. He was under control, he generated weak contact on his pitches, and struck out four in his two innings.

The Change Jose Leclerc has made over the last month

The one noticeable change I see is that he is now pitching with confidence. I am guessing the Rangers made some slight adjustments with his mechanics and worked on his release point. The confidence has clearly returned. He went through an ugly stretch in late April, early May and it seemed he was not sure if he could throw the ball over the plate. Here is a pitch chart from May 3rd when he struggled so much against Arizona that fans were calling for him to be released.

That is when Leclerc is at his worst is when he has no command of his fastball. Leclerc is not complicated. If he has command of his fastball he will be successful and if he does not he will struggle. Every other pitch he throws relies on his fastball being in the strike zone. He had that today and has had that now for the last three appearances. He has thrown four innings, his last three times out. He has five strikeouts to one walk in those four innings. Leclerc being a reliable reliever is a much more important development for the Texas Rangers long term than the 16 runs that they scored today.

I do not think it is a stretch to say that Leclerc is back. What does being back look like for Leclerc? I am not sure if he returns to being the dominant closer he was before Tommy John surgery. I do think he can become someone who can pitch in a setup role late in games. Bruce Bochy is clearly looking for guys who will not pitch scared in that situation. He used Grant Anderson Friday night in a 1-0 game in the eighth and Anderson came through as noted by the Dallas Morning News. If Leclerc can be one of those guys it will make everyone else's job in the bullpen much easier. Will Smith is holding on to the closers' job. Ideally, Leclerc would be the 8th-inning pitcher with Anderson, Jonathan Hernandez, and Brock Burke filling the sixth and seventh-inning roles.

Oh and the Texas Rangers lineup did it again

The Rangers rolled out their death star lineup today for the first time all season against rookie Bryan Woo. It went exactly how it should go against a pitcher making his major-league debut. The Rangers put up six runs in two innings against Woo. Then they put up another 10 against the Mariners bullpen and ended up winning 16-6. This is not a joke that this Texas Rangers lineup might be one of the best that this franchise has ever assembled. It does not have the might that those 1990s teams had with Pudge Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez, and Rafael Palmiero in the middle, but I do believe this lineup is deeper from the top to the bottom of the lineup.

The star of the game was once again Marcus Semien. He quickly extended his hit streak to 22 games with a first-inning single. Then he followed it up with three more hits including two doubles and his ninth home run of the season. He just continues to show up each and every game and come through for this team. MVP is likely out of reach for him, but All-MLB, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, and most definitely All-Star starter is within his reach. That is how good he has been. Just one of the best all-around players in all of baseball.

The Rangers with the win improve to 37-20. They have now won five straight series. They still are two and a half games in front of the Houston Astros. They will go for the sweep tomorrow afternoon with AL Pitcher of the Month for May Nathan Eovaldi on the mound. Seattle will send rookie standout Bryce Miller to the mound.

Game time is at 1:35pm and it will be broadcast locally by Bally Sports Southwest.