Texas Rangers: Bullpen
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:
|ESPN Insider Jim Bowden joins Ben & Skin to discuss the latest on Rangers spring training and the upcoming season.
* 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 Rangers are in full training mode in Surprise, Ariz. Ben and Skin discuss which players are key, who needs to step up and more.
* Daniels said the bullpen is his biggest thing he's keeping an eye on this spring. Joe Nathan is the closer and Jason Frasor has a spot, according to manager Ron Washington. The rest of it? Up for grabs. The club has some good arms in camp and some guys hoping to prove they are healthy. Now they have to find out where it all slots.
"I feel good that we're going to put together a good bullpen based on the options we have," Daniels said. "We trust our scouts and we trust our staff here to put guys in the right roles."
We'll talk more about that bullpen in the coming days here on the blog.
* Mike Olt will get time in right field, and Daniels believes the prospect can handle it.
"A lot of times guys move positions because they're not good at one, and that's not the case with him," Daniels said. "He's a plus defensive third baseman, he's just behind probably the best third baseman in the game right now. We're looking at ways he can contribute and protecting ourselves in the case of injury. But I know from the guys that saw him do it at Double-A, and Gary (Pettis) talked about working with him, everyone feels he's capable. He has plenty of arm and is athletic enough to handle it."
* Daniels expects Nelson Cruz to arrive in camp Friday. He didn't have any update on MLB's investigation and didn't think he'd hear anything until the investigation ends.
Adrian Beltre: Last week's AL player of the week is 7-for-21 the last six games with two homers, seven RBIs and a 1.201 OPS. And he continues to make ridiculous plays at third base. His stock just keeps going up.
Yu Darvish: He made just one start in the last week, but it was an important one. He's beginning to show signs that he's rounding into form at the right time. After skipping a start because of a tight quad, Darvish looked good. He pitched seven scoreless innings, gave up six hits, had two walks and 10 strikeouts in a win over the Rays on Tuesday.
Mike Napoli: He tested the strained quad by running the bases and didn't feel good enough to go out on a rehab assignment. Once he does go out, his stock will likely head back up. But for now, the Rangers are without one of their catchers. Still, it's best that Napoli make sure he's totally healthy before he returns.
Mike Olt: He makes this list simply because of injury and lack of playing time. He has plantar fasciitis and, as many of you can probably attest, that's not a pleasant thing. He was 0-for-3 in limited action the last six games.
10a. Texas Rangers
They've got a lot of great pieces and this could be a special group, depending on how a few things shake out:
A. Can Joe Nathan get back to being a frontline closer, as he takes over for Neftali Feliz?
B. Can Koji Uehara bounce back, after pitching terribly for the Rangers following a midseason trade?
C. Will the Rangers add another bullpen piece -- perhaps Alexi Ogando, if Texas chooses to shift him back to a relief role, or Andrew Bailey, who has been the subject of Rangers-Athletics trade talks?
The others ahead of Texas:
1. Atlanta Braves
2. New York Yankees
3. San Francisco Giants
4. Cleveland Indians
5. Arizona Diamondbacks
6. Milwaukee Brewers
7. St. Louis Cardinals
8. Washington Nationals
9. Miami Marlins
(Note: 10b -- Philadelphia Phillies)
You can read the entire entry here (insider).
ESPN Radio's Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic present their solution to the Cardinals' communication issues: Bullpen Phone.
You can also here Mike and Mike's reaction to Tony La Russa's bullpen adventures here.
Starter Matt Harrison managed to scatter 11 hits and left the game with a runner on first and no outs in the seventh and the Rangers down, 2-1. In trotted Tommy Hunter for his first late-inning relief appearance of 2011. Hunter was called up with the idea that he could be versatile in the bullpen, but the club wants to see if he could be another hard-throwing right-handed reliever in the seventh or eighth inning.
Facing right-handed hitters Adam Jones and Vladimir Guerrero, Hunter threw nothing but cutters. The pitch, hitting between 90 to 92 mph on the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington radar gun, was effective, inducing two ground balls needed to get out of the inning. When the Rangers took the lead in the bottom half, Hunter had a win. The pitcher is adjusting to his new role in relief.
"If they give me the ball, I'm going to go out and give them what I have," Hunter said. "I wouldn't say I'm comfortable yet. That's something that comes with time and getting used to the situation and how you react and how you feel. I had some nerves going. I knew I had to keep it going. The more times I get a chance to get out there in situations where the game is close, the more comfortable I can get."
Chances are good he'll get more opportunities after his performance on Tuesday.
Despite throwing just seven pitches (six of them strikes), Hunter was out after the seventh and Mark Lowe came into the game. Manager Ron Washington said he wanted Lowe in the game because "the eighth inning is his inning." Washington knows he'll need these pitchers in the second half and needs to keep running them out there in the pressure situations.
Lowe produced, getting through the eighth with one single allowed. Lowe threw a 98 mph fastball down and in to Mark Reynolds that was one of his better pitches in any recent outing. Lowe is locating his fastball better, making his breaking and off-speed stuff more effective.
The ninth was, of course, Neftali Feliz time. And it was the flame-throwing Feliz who came out for that inning. He hit 100 mph twice to his first batter, pinch-hitter Blake Davis. And didn't mess around, throwing fastballs by the three hitters he faced.
Add it up and it was three scoreless relief innings to preserve a 4-2 win. Maybe it's the confidence boost an inconsistent bullpen needs.
It was another bullpen breakdown Sunday. Hours after being named to the All-Star team, C.J. Wilson looked like an All-Star, going 7 1/3 innings and allowing two runs (one earned) with one walk and nine strikeouts. And he got a no-decision.
Such is how things go when the bullpen falters in a close game. Mark Lowe came in with a runner at third and one out in the eighth and appeared poised to pitch out of a big jam. He got Omar Infante to ground out to third with the infield in and then walked Gaby Sanchez. On a pickoff move out of Little League -- the fake throw to third and look to first -- Lowe caught Sanchez too far off the bag. But he wasn't able to make the throw in time to get him. His hesitation gave Sanchez time to recover and slide in safely ahead of the tag.
"Everytime I do that, I tell myself to expect to make a throw because you never know," Lowe said. "I can't tell you the last time I got somebody on that move. It can still catch you off guard no matter what you try to tell yourself. He was just getting his secondary lead. The ball wasn't firmly in my hand good enough to make a throw."
Lowe still had a chance to get out of the inning. He got Hanley Ramirez to hit a chopper over the mound, but shortstop Elvis Andrus couldn't make the play. That tied the score.
Darren Oliver gave up a two-RBI double with two outs and was replaced by closer Neftali Feliz despite the Rangers down 4-2 at that point. Feliz threw a pitch up in the zone on 0-2 and surrendered an RBI single. It took four pitchers to get out of that eighth inning and a game the Rangers led with two outs turned into a three-run deficit.
Manager Ron Washington had the relievers he wanted (Mike Maddux was making the pitching changes after Washington was ejected), but the club didn't execute. The bullpen now has a 4.52 ERA this season, the third-highest in the American League. Only Detroit and Minnesota are higher. The Rangers relievers have a 6.25 ERA in the last eight games.
As we get closer to the trade deadline -- about a month and a half away now -- ESPN.com's Buster Olney took a look at the bullpen options available for teams in need of relief help, like the Rangers. Here's part of his blog entry (click here for the entire thing):
Grant Balfour, Oakland Athletics -- The 33-year-old right-hander is having a decent season, with a 2.81 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP. He's under contract for this season and next, for $3.75 million this year and $4 million next year.
Mike Adams, San Diego Padres -- On one hand, San Diego could look to him to be their closer if Heath Bell is traded (and the industrywide expectation is that Bell will move soon). On the other hand, rival executives wonder whether now would be the best time to trade 32-year-old Adams to take advantage of his value -- and he would have a lot because he is arbitration-eligible and would be under team control through 2012 and because his stuff is excellent. "He's nasty right now," a scout said this week.
Luke Gregerson, Padres -- The same scout said he has seen some regression in Gregerson's stuff this year, an observation reflected in the fact that, for the first time in his career, Gregerson is allowing more than a hit an inning -- 31 hits in 27.1 innings, after surrendering 47 hits in 78.1 innings last season. His strikeout rate has gone from 10.2 per nine innings last year to 4.6 this year.
But he is experienced, and right-handed batters have a .290 on-base percentage against him.
Now we know that Holland and McCarthy will be in AAA, Hunter will be working his way back to good health, Matt Harrison will be in the rotation after catching management’s attention early, and C.J. Wilson will be viewed as an upper half of the rotation guy, as he has continued to look better and better. As we open the season, Harrison’s spot appears to be the most tenuous. He struggled late in the spring as he attempted to perfect his off-speed offerings and his overall command.
Among the four listed above who did not win rotation spots, Hunter should receive the first opportunity. Once his strained oblique heals, he will most likely go to Oklahoma City to rehab and begin to fight for his spot. McCarthy has a lot to work on, as he is in the process of completely overhauling his repertoire and approach. A stay in AAA should be ideal for him, but both his progress and the performance of Harrison, Hunter, Holland and maybe even Lewis will factor into his timetable to return to the majors. Make no mistake, though. As frustrating McCarthy’s injury-riddled and inconsistent tenure with the Rangers has been, for a club with playoff expectations, he is welcome rotation depth.
It is worth noting that despite the fact that Holland never really challenged for a rotation spot, his stock within the organization is not down at all. Like McCarthy, Holland should benefit from some time in AAA to add the finishing touches to his game. We saw Holland look nearly unhittable at times in 2009, and we saw his pitches and command periodically disappear. He is right where he should be, and there is every reason to think that he could be an impact player for the Rangers later in the season.
Over the winter, as the club mulled how to use Feliz in 2010, a popular notion emerged. Texas could “Joba” Feliz: start him in the bullpen, send him to AAA for a bit in the middle of the season, and then plug him into the rotation for the stretch run. I suspect that, among their innermost thoughts, Jon Daniels, Nolan Ryan and Mike Maddux have not completely extinguished that notion, but it has not been discussed publicly this spring, and it appears even less likely with Wilson’s emergence. Feliz as a starter most likely will be revisited in 2011 at the earliest.
Who else should hold a bit of our attention as the season progresses? Who has not been mentioned here, but could make a difference for this team as Feliz and Hunter did last season? Three things to keep in mind:
1. Don’t expect anyone else to impact the rotation in a serious way this season. Eric Hurley will be returning, but he has a major task in front of him in returning from a very serious injury. The Rangers have a few other upper-level starting prospects, but they are not impact arms at this point, and handing the ball to them would fall more into the "scary" category.
2. The two pitching prospects in Texas’ system are Martin Perez and Tanner Scheppers, but either making a start for the Rangers this season would be a huge surprise. Perez turns 19 years old today, Scheppers has yet to throw an official pitch in affiliated baseball, and the club will be very strict with each pitcher’s workload. That should preclude both from starting major league games late in the season, no matter how good they look.
3. A variety of guys could help the bullpen. Omar Beltre, Guillermo Moscoso, Pedro Strop, Warner Madrigal -- we will likely see all of them, and any could provide a surprisingly positive boost. There are two, though, who appear to have the package to be electric additions, guys who could turn this bullpen into a different creature if their games come together in time: Scheppers and Alexi Ogando. They have been two of the big stories of camp, Ogando surviving several cuts as the Rangers apparently couldn’t get enough looks at him, and Scheppers showing folks like Ryan such talent that they are beginning to believe that he can front their rotation in time. Watch for these two names this spring. They will start in Frisco, and they could be major factors in Arlington within a few months.