The Texas Rangers have been toying around with the idea of a six-man rotation this season. However, it doesn't seem like it's the direction they will inevitably choose.
The Rangers have around a dozen candidates for their starting rotation in 2021. Kyle Gibson, Kohei Arihara and Mike Foltynewicz are locks. After that trio, everything gets dicey.
Veteran Jordan Lyles feels like a lock, but the Rangers used an opener with him multiple times in 2020. Dane Dunning and Kyle Cody are strong candidates, but will have their innings limited in 2021.
Kolby Allard, Wes Benjamin, Taylor Hearn and Joe Palumbo are all young and provide the Rangers some attractive left-handed options, but all will be limited in some fashion. Korean veteran Hyeong-Jong Yang is another southpaw that is known for his durability and can give the Rangers innings this year, but we have yet to see how he transitions to the North American game.
Bottom line: The Rangers need innings. They don't have workhorses like Lance Lynn atop the rotation anymore, who pretty much guarantee six innings every outing. Chris Woodward and the coaching staff will have their creativity tested throughout the season of how to best eat innings while protecting the health of their pitching staff.
Along with the idea of a six-man rotation, the Rangers have also considered having a "piggyback" scenario, pairing certain pitchers with multi-inning relievers. The latter is the idea that's carrying steam as the regular season inches closer.
"If we're going to use any sort of tandem, or piggyback situation, having a six-man [rotation], we have no bullpen at that point," Woodward said. "I think we're sticking with the five-man, with the idea of maybe one or two of those in somewhat of a piggyback situation, just to kind of limit the innings at the beginning."
The Rangers have a vast number of ways to go with the number of pitchers they are stretching out for multiple innings. It's very possible the Rangers end up with five right-handed pitchers in their rotation. If that's the case, it will be very crucial to have at least two left-handed options that can pitch multiple innings.
"It's not only a strategic advantage for us," Woodward said. "But also the left-right thing is important. They could work really well together to get us through seven or eight innings."
For the first 25 games of the 2020 season, the Rangers trotted out a unique lineup. It wasn't until game 26 where Chris Woodward copied and pasted a lineup from a previous game.
I had a chance to ask Chris Woodward if he was seeking more lineup consistency this year. While personnel and matchups dictated a lot of the reason for the constant changes last year, it's not something he particularly enjoyed doing. However, there are clearly some new ways of thinking that dictate daily lineup decisions.
"I think today's game is a little different," Woodward said. "I think there is some merit to having guys in a consistent spot. I'd love for Joey [Gallo] to just sit in the three-hole and stay there, maybe two-hole at times.
"There's a lot of thought that goes into it. Do we tinker too much, and then guys don't really get comfortable in their spot? Or do you have a set lineup and just run the same guys out there? I don't think that's the way anymore, because it's not just left-right anymore — high-spin, sink, spin, this curveball, etc. — there's a lot of different things that we factor in to see who's going to have the most success."
Ultimately, the Rangers want to score runs. That may mean stacking hitters one day, trotting out a previous lineup another day, or mixing things up for a couple series.
Woodward has a few hitters where there is a mutual comfort level with moving up and down the lineup, namely Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Nick Solak, Charlie Culberson, and Brock Holt. Woodward has also moved Willie Calhoun up and down the lineup in the early part of spring training. Watching how he tinkers with the lineup throughout Cactus League play may paint a picture of what the Rangers' lineup could be on a daily basis once games begin to count.
"Putting a crooked number up there is what we're looking for," Woodward said. "How that happens, do I have to change it everyday? I don't necessarily want to do that, but we might move a few guys around at times."
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