Pitching Tandems: Are The Rangers About to Pull The Plug?

After Dane Dunning's stellar outing and Wes Benjamin's demotion, how much longer will the Texas Rangers utilize pitching tandems in their starting rotation?
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The Texas Rangers have played their 15th game, which means they have gone through their starting rotation three times by now. Overall, they have performed pretty well, posting a 3.87 ERA and 1.21 WHIP through 86 innings.

In order to preserve the health of their younger pitchers, the Rangers opted to have two tandem spots in their rotation, where each tandem has a starter with a set ceiling, then another pitcher "piggybacks" off of him to carry the team into the later innings.

While manager Chris Woodward said prior to the season that the tandem situation would be very fluid, he's decided to stick with the same pairings each time thus far.

  • Jordan Lyles (starter) & Wes Benjamin (piggyback)
  • Dane Dunning (starter) & Taylor Hearn (piggyback)

On the flip side, just about everything else has fallen in line with the fluidity referenced Woodward. There have been three times where it's looked more like an actual tandem, but three times the piggyback failed to log at least two innings.

  • April 4 at Kansas City: Lyles - 5 2/3 innings pitched, Benjamin - 2 1/3 IP
  • April 6 vs Toronto: Dunning - 5 IP, Hearn - 2 IP
  • April 10 vs San Diego: Lyles - 4 1/3 IP, Benjamin - 2 IP
  • April 12 at Tampa Bay: Dunning - 4 IP, Hearn - 3 IP
  • April 15 at Tampa Bay: Lyles - 5 1/3 IP, Benjamin - 1 1/3 IP
  • April 17 vs Baltimore: Dunning - 6 IP, Hearn - 1 IP

Since the Rangers optioned Benjamin to the alternate site on Saturday, it begged the question: How much longer will these tandems be utilized?

"We are looking at Kolby potentially to take Wes [Benjamin]'s spot, but we haven't officially made that decision yet," Woodward said after Saturday's loss to Baltimore.

Okay, so that takes care of one tandem. Kyle Cody — though he is a right-hander and Chris Woodward has said he prefers the tandems to be paired righty-lefty — could be another option behind Lyles. John King, a southpaw, could make a case for that spot as well.

However, Dunning pitched six innings and Hearn was limited to just one on Saturday. What's to make of that?

"We wanted to keep Hearn short today," Woodward said. "He pitched twice [where] he didn't have his full four days. So, we had already made the decision before the game to keep him shorter. It kind of worked out. We hoped to get five-plus out of Dane and the rest through seven can go to Hearn. 

"It obviously worked out that way with Dane only having 75 pitches through six innings. I felt like in a normal setting, he probably goes nine [innings]. I've talked to him about that and Dane understands. Probably next time out we might shorten Dane up a little bit as far as innings, and let Hearn go a little deeper."

For now, it looks like the tandem spots are still intact. However, Woodward has not been shy about turning Lyles back into a traditional starter if he can consistently prove he can pitch deep enough into games and remain effective. 

If Dunning can continue his remarkable efficiency, it could be very hard to take him out if he's dealing like he did on Saturday just to stick with a tandem. Woodward even said previously it would "be a tough challenge to do the tandem the whole year.”

Even though it's only been three time through the rotation, we've seen enough to wonder how much longer the Rangers could entertain this set up. They've been very open about keeping their younger pitchers healthy this year, especially Dunning and Cody, who are coming off a severe lack of innings over the past two years due to arm injuries.

If the pitching tandems help keep them healthy, maybe they will stick with it as long as they can.

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Chris Halicke covers the Texas Rangers for SI's InsideTheRangers.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisHalicke.
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