Posted on July 1, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
Since opening day, the bullpen has been a huge problem for the Texas Rangers. With the all-star break less than two weeks away, the Rangers are no closer to solving their bullpen issues than they were on opening day. Parting ways with former closer Sam Dyson in early June did little to improve things. The Rangers have now removed another relief pitcher from the closer’s role. Matt Bush has taken out of the closer’s spot, as the Rangers move to a closer-by-committee setup.
“We’ll use multiple pitchers based on who is available and the set of hitters coming up,” explains Rangers manager Jeff Banister. “We are not set on one single guy.”
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The move comes one day after Bush blew a save against the Chicago White Sox. Bush has now blown four saves in his last eight save opportunities.
Bush was dominant for much of May after taking over the closer’s job from Dyson. But things fell apart for the former 1st overall pick in June. In 10 appearances in June, Bush posted a 9.64 ERA, as opposing batters hit .429 against him. Now the Rangers are back to square one with regard to the closer’s spot and their entire bullpen.
“We have to find the best recipe to get the 27th out,” says Banister. “How we get there — traditional, non-traditional — it’s figuring out who will stand out there in the last inning and get the last out.”
Banister hasn’t ruled out continuing to use Bush in the 9th inning. However, his inability to close out games over the last month has him considering other options. Jose Leclerc and Alex Claudio have been the team’s best relievers over the course of the season. However, neither has any experience as a closer outside of A-ball.
Another intriguing candidate for the vacant closer’s position is Keone Kela. During the month of June, Kela posted a 1.69 ERA while striking out 16 in 10.2 innings. However, he’s also been dealing with biceps soreness recently. He’s been able to avoid going on the DL to this point. But Kela’s availability from one day to the next is sometimes uncertain. That makes it difficult for the Rangers to commit to him as the team’s permanent closer.
“Kela has the best stuff to do it,” Banister admits. “But at this point, you might see a situation where we have two guys in the inning.”
Injuries have also hindered the Texas bullpen lately. Tony Barnette and Jeremy Jeffress are both on the DL. Both have had dreadful seasons to this point. However, each had an impressive year in 2016, giving the Rangers hope that both can turn things around when they return from the DL. Barnette should be back soon while Jeffress’ return from a back strain is less certain.
Texas is also hoping to get Jake Diekman back sometime after the all-star break. Diekman has missed the entire season while being treated for a problem with his colon. He saved four games and posted a 3.40 ERA last year, and so the Rangers are hopeful he can be a useful part of their bullpen during the second half of the season.
The silver lining for Banister is that he only needs to go back in time two years for proof that the club’s bullpen issue can still be fixed. Texas had similar problems in the closer’s role in 2015. Soon after Banister declared the spot open, Shawn Tolleson took and job and ran with it, helping the Rangers win the AL West.
Of course, Banister laments that no one has solidified the closer’s spot this time around. In the meantime, the Rangers are battling with close to 10 other teams for the American League’s two wild-card spots. If Texas can’t get its bullpen issues sorted out in short order, it’s hard to envision the Rangers being at the top of the wild-card standings by season’s end.