Texas Rangers: Bullpen
That's not to say that when March 31 comes, Feliz won't be the guy called upon to get the final three outs. But there's a long way between now and then Feliz hasn't seized the spot yet. It's still up for grabs.
Feliz didn't light up any radar guns Sunday as his fastball was clocked between 87 and 91 mph, perhaps even touching 92. But that's not close to the winter ball reports that had him in the mid-90s and Feliz himself saying he hit 97. But the former closer who is hoping to reclaim his job isn't worried. He's been in spring training many times and is convinced that he's ramping up and that his arm strength will improve.
His focus now is on his mechanics, specifically his arm slot.
"I'm working on getting my arm up and keeping the ball down," Feliz said after Sunday's performance. "That's what I need to do for my secondary pitches."
Feliz made his first appearance in Cactus League play Sunday and couldn't get his changeup down. He left two hanging and both were hit hard, including one for an opposite-field two-run homer by catcher Tyler Flowers in the sixth.
Figueroa was put on waivers after the Rays signed Grant Balfour. They had originally claimed him off waivers from the Oakland A's earlier in the month. Figueroa, 28, has made 24 relief appearances for the A’s the over the past seasons, allowing four runs over three innings (five outings) with Oakland in 2013. He was 3-4 with a 4.10 ERA and two saves in 59 1/3 innings pitched last season at Triple-A Sacramento. Between the majors and minors last year, Figueroa held left-handed batters to a .229 average.
Roe, 27, made his big league debut with the Diamondbacks last season and was 1-0 with a 4.03 ERA in 21 games. Texas has 10 days to trade, release or outright Roe to the minors.
Nathan heaped praise on the Rangers' fans and talked about how much he enjoyed closing games in Texas.
"Baseball in Texas was great," Nathan said Sunday. "The organization treats the player second to none. They do it right. The city and the fans always showed up. It was loud crowds, and that was fun to come to the ballpark as a player and know we were going to have a good atmosphere. There are some places where you have to find your own energy, and Texas wasn't one of those places. If you felt sluggish at all, the crowd would pick you up."
Texas picked up the option on Nathan's contract, but the 38-year-old closer had the right to decline the $9 million option and did so Friday, making him a free agent. He said he wants a two-year deal and was "hoping" the Rangers would be interested, but understands they have other priorities.
"I’m sure ... they could use this money to better strengthen themselves and use it for holes they can fill," Nathan said. "The bullpen is one area they feel they can afford to lose a guy or two and pick up some cash for something else. I get that. To me, it seems that other clubs are going to call and I don’t think Texas will be one of them."
Nathan has 341 saves, good enough for 10th all time. He was an All-Star in both of his seasons in Texas.
There are three clear options (in alphabetical order):
"With Scheppers, it was a big breakout performance for us," Daniels said. "He's always had that ability, but from a consistency standpoint, he took a big step forward."
Daniels credits Nathan for helping Scheppers take that step.
"He's a guy that at the time was one of the best closers in the game in Kansas City and at times [in 2013] looked like a guy a year off from Tommy John surgery," Daniels said. "We talk about guys coming back in 12 months [from Tommy John], but a lot of times it's not until the second year that you see them at 100 percent. You saw that at times this year."
Daniels said that he's hoping Soria follows a path similar to Nathan, in that it took Nathan a little time following surgery before he started to dominate again.
But Friday's move gives the Rangers some financial flexibility to worry about their other needs, like finding a catcher, another outfielder and figuring out what they want to do at first base.
Frasor, 36, gives this club an important veteran in late relief from a bullpen that was one of the best in the big leagues last year. The Rangers had a 2.89 ERA, second-best in the league behind the Kansas City Royals. Frasor was a key component in the sixth or seventh inning to help get the game to Tanner Scheppers and Joe Nathan.
Frasor rebounded from an unsteady April and May to become a solid, reliable relief piece for manager Ron Washington, pitching coach Mike Maddux and bullpen coach Andy Hawkins. Frasor had a 2.06 ERA in the final four months of the season and opponents hit just .187 against him. He allowed just one home run in that span and had a 1.06 WHIP.
In those final four months, Frasor also held left-handed hitters to a .163 average and in the last 22 at-bats lefties had against him, they managed just one hit.
By the way, for those wondering about cost: Mike Adams was coming off a season with the Rangers in which he had a 3.47 ERA in 61 games (52 1/3 innings) with 45 strikeouts and 17 walks. He earned a two-year deal worth $12 million from the Phillies. In fairness, Adams was the club's primary eighth-inning setup man with Texas, and Frasor was not. But Frasor's season-long numbers in 2013 are pretty similar to what Adams had in 2012 before departing (2.57 ERA, 61 games, 49 innings, 48 strikeouts and 20 walks). Frasor certainly fits into the budget a lot better.
The Rangers wanted Frasor's important right arm in the bullpen in 2014, so they got the deal done now.
Only days before the Rangers arrived in Seattle, Scheppers had two of the worst outings of his career. He gave up two runs on three hits with a couple of wild pitches and hit batters against the Astros and then a run on three hits in a loss to the White Sox. It capped a very difficult stretch for Scheppers. The young reliever posted a 4.76 ERA in his last 17 innings before the trip to Seattle. Opponents were hitting .333 against him. Included in that span was his black eye on the streets of Cleveland. It just wasn't a 6-week stretch to remember for Scheppers
Before June 30, when the struggles began, Scheppers was an All-Star caliber reliever. He posted a 1.11 ERA in his first 40 2/3 innings. Opponents hit just .168 against him. Did he experience some fatigue? Very possible.
But the last two games in Seattle has seen the return of the Scheppers that we all saw early in the season. He needed just seven pitches to get three outs in the first game of the Rangers' three-game sweep of the Mariners. That was with a 5-run lead. But the next night, in a tie game, Scheppers came in and got two strikeouts and pitched out of a jam. He didn't allow a hit in either appearance and his command was solid. His fastball hit 97 mph more than a handful of times those two nights.
It was a good sign that Scheppers is finding it again. And that would be huge for this team. They need Scheppers as they shut down guy late in close games down the stretch and into the postseason.
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- There are plenty of open spots and a gaggle of arms in camp to compete for jobs. As Texas Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux put it: "We do have a 'Help Wanted' sign hanging in our bullpen."
While the competition for some spots is wide open, Maddux did indicate there are some favorites. Here's some of what he had to say to the media today:
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* He listed Robbie Ross and Kyle McClellan as favorites to get bullpen spots if one of them isn't the fifth starter.
* Maddux mentioned Tanner Scheppers and Michael Kirkman as two guys as favorites for spots, as well.
So if we take what Maddux said, here's the rough idea of the bullpen as spring begins (that's assuming these "favorites" do their thing and secure spots): Nathan, Frasor, Ross/McClellan (could be both if neither wins the fifth starter spot), Scheppers and Kirkman.
That still leaves a few spots (again, just because guys are "favorites" doesn't mean they'll earn the jobs). Josh Lindblom is someone Washington mentioned as a guy who will get a serious look. But there are others, too.
"We have a lot of guys that are experienced in their major league service time and some young guys too who are unproven, but they have high ceilings or a lot of promise," Maddux said. "This is a great camp to pitch well -- a lot of opportunities out there."
Maddux is content to let the competition begin and evaluate as he goes. With a bunch of spring, intrasquad, split-squad and even one or two "B" games, Maddux and his staff will have enough innings to let everyone pitch and get a sense of what they can do.
The 35-year-old Frasor is listed at 5-foot-9. That seems generous. He weighs 180 pounds and is not known as a guy with overpowering stuff. He works off his fastball, relies on location and guile, and uses his changeup to alter speeds and keep hitters off balance. Nathan is 6-foot-4 and 227 pounds.
“Joe is one of my favorite relief pitchers of all time,” Frasor said. “I think a lot of it is jealousy. I like his size and how tall he is and how he throws the ball downhill. He’s got that nasty slider, and I don’t have that. I’m envious. I’ll admit it.”
Frasor is happy to admit it because he also has confidence. He knows what works for him and goes with it. When manager Ron Washington was asked who was a lock in the bullpen besides Nathan, Frasor was the only name he mentioned as a sure bet.
“I’m a fastball guy, so I have to locate it,” Frasor said. “If I do that and change speeds, I’m fine. I’m aggressive with hitters. The only way you sleep at night is if you go right at these guys, especially out of the bullpen. The walks absolutely kill you out of the bullpen.”
Frasor said he wanted to pitch in Texas because it kept him in the American League and pitching for a contender.
“They were the first and only team to make me an offer,” Frasor said. “Other teams were interested, but they stepped up. So I was ready to go. I saw guys signing two or three days before spring. I didn’t want to do that.”
Frasor, who was 1-1 with a 4.12 ERA in 43 2/3 innings with 53 strikeouts and 22 walks last year in Toronto, has been impressed the Rangers from afar the past few seasons.
“I never wanted to pitch against them in Arlington. Bad things happen in Arlington,” Frasor said. “It’s a great team. It’s a loose team. They never seemed tight. That comes from the manager, I think. Darren Oliver was my teammate last year and he had nothing but great things to say about the manager, about the clubhouse, about the players. That carries some weight when it comes from him because he’s a pro.”
"I respectfully declined," Nathan said Wednesday via text. "It was a huge honor to be asked and I feel good, but I want to do right by the Rangers."
Nathan, 38, had 37 saves and a 2.80 ERA and was named to the AL All-Star team last year.
For those keeping track, Nelson Cruz and Adrian Beltre are planning to play for the Dominican Republic and shortstop Elvis Andrus for Venezuela. But the WBC shouldn't impact too many Rangers.
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"Kyle has had success on winning clubs in a variety of roles - starter, setup guy, and swing man," general manager Jon Daniels said. "He'll be in the mix for any one of several spots on the staff. His versatility and makeup should be real assets to the club."
McClellan, drafted in the 25th round in 2002 by the Cardinals, was 19-23 with a 3.69 ERA in 261 games (17 starts) from 2008 to 2012. He made all 11 starts in 2011 and was 2-6 with a 4.21 ERA in those starts.
Soria, appearing at a fan event sponsored by ESPN Deportes 1540 AM in Dallas on Thursday, said he's throwing out to 120 feet and feels good. He does not know when he might get on a mound.
Soria, a two-time All-Star with 160 career saves with the Kansas City Royals, had surgery last April and the usual recovery time is 12 to 18 months.
"I'd like to start when the season begins in April, but that's not realistic," Soria said. "I'm still looking at late May, but it's probably more like the first few days of June. It depends how it goes with the bullpens. I'm doing everything possible to get ready as soon as I can. My goal is to be with the team and help them."
Soria said he's throwing for eight minutes from 120 feet after throwing for 10 minutes to build up to that distance. Next week, he plans on increasing to 10 minutes from 120 feet.
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Hottovy, 31, was designated for assignment earlier this week so the club could clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Lance Berkman.
Hottovy was originally claimed by the Rangers in November from the Kansas City Royals. The lefty has a career 4.05 ERA in 17 outings out of the bullpen for the Red Sox and Kansas City the past two seasons.
"I’m a fastball guy," Frasor said. "That’s my strength. I stick with it. I’m a 92 to 94 mph. I locate the fastball."
Frasor joked that if he was feeling particularly good he could touch 95. But it's all about location for Frasor, who has learned how to move that fastball and get ahead in counts.
"My best off-speed pitch is my changeup," Frasor said. "I’m not a big breaking ball guy. I’ll go weeks at a time without throwing a breaking ball. My slider is not a put-away slider. It's something I can get in for a strike."
Frasor also said he doesn't back down from hitters.
"I’m pretty aggressive in the zone and I like to think I go after guys," Frasor said. "If you locate your fastball, things should be fine. I’m a firm believer in locating that fastball."
Frasor had his highest strikeout-per-nine-innings (10.9) of his career in 2012. Right-handed batters hit just .245 against him with 35 strikeouts in 98 at-bats. Frasor allowed seven of his 22 walks to right-handed batters, compared to 15 against lefties (who had just 66 at-bats against him last season).
Of course, it's an organization that prides itself on spending smart, which explains why some of the free agents the club hoped to acquire didn't end up in Arlington this offseason. But when it comes to the bullpen, the club's front office has been careful to pick and choose which pitchers get multi-year deals, opting for those that may have something to prove in battling back from injury. It's rarely a spot they want to spend big bucks, instead choosing to carefully manage what kind of money is used in the pen.
This offseason is no exception. With Joe Nathan already under contract -- and after his 2012 season, the $7 million he's getting paid in 2013 looks like a bargain -- the Rangers gave Joakim Soria a two-year deal with a club option for a third year. They did it because they felt they got good value at $8 million over the two years for a pitcher hoping to show he can get healthy and pitch well again.
Texas has supplemented those signings with young players who are pre-arbitration and those acquired for a relatively cheap price on the free agent market. Thursday was another example of that. In Jason Frasor, the club gets a veteran pitcher who has been pretty consistent in his career. He misses bats and can be a steady presence in the pen. They got that for $1.5 million. Even in trades, they hope they've received good value. Josh Lindblom came to Texas in the Michael Young trade. He isn't arbitration eligible until 2015 and made just $483,000 last year.
As Jamey Newberg points out today, other teams have spent a great deal on relievers. Jonathan Broxton got $21 million over three years, Brandon League signed a three-year, $22.5 million deal and Jeremy Affeldt got $18 million for three years. Those are the kinds of deals the Rangers like to make at that position. They'll go multi-years, but it's got to be at a certain value.
The Rangers hope the cheap prices provide good value. They lost Scott Feldman, Koji Uehara and Mike Adams from the bullpen a year ago. In essence, they had a gaggle of innings to make up in that pen after also shifting Alexi Ogando to the bullpen.
The Texas front office is in the process of filling those holes. They just want to do it at an affordable price.
The right-handed reliever agreed to a two-year, $12 million deal (pending a physical) with the Phillies that includes a vesting option for a third year. Adams can earn that third year if he appears in 120 or more games in the first two years or in at least 60 games in 2014.
Adams joins Scott Feldman (Chicago Cubs) and Koji Uehara (Boston Red Sox) as bullpen members who have signed with other clubs this offseason. Others could follow.
The Rangers never expected to have Adams back, figuring he'd try to get a lengthy multi-year deal, which he did. The club has signed Joakim Soria this offseason, hoping he can be a part of the back end of the bullpen at some point a few months after the season starts. Josh Lindblom was picked up in the Michael Young trade (like Adams, he is a Phillie) and Tommy Hottovy and Cory Burns will get some looks this spring as well.
The bullpen will certainly take on a different look in 2013. One constant: Joe Nathan will close. But with Alexi Ogando moving to the rotation and other pitchers going to other teams, how the rest of that relief corps slots will be one of the interesting things to watch for the rest of this offseason and in spring training.
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