There are a number of pitchers competing for a starting role in Texas Rangers camp, but it pales in comparison to the competition in the bullpen.
In our daily Zoom call with Rangers manager Chris Woodward, a few different names came up regarding the bullpen after Friday's revelation regarding José Leclerc.
READ MORE: Is Leclerc the Rangers Closer?
The bottom line: this could be a non-traditional bullpen, at least at the outset of the season.
Who Will Be the Closer?
I asked Chris Woodward if there is a list of names they are considering to fill a traditional closer role. His answer revealed that the bullpen may be a bit non-traditional, at least from the outset.
Woodward: "Yeah, I think so. We've identified guys that have done it before, or just to have the stuff to do it. But I definitely don't want to go into camp or, maybe as we get closer to the season starting, and one of those guys emerges. But the last thing I want to do is take a guy who's going to provide a ton of value and maybe a multiple inning setting, and just say, 'Okay, you're our closer,' and then we no longer have that.
"I don't want to use a revolving door. Eventually, I like the idea of having a closer because him knowing — whoever that is — that he's going to be pitching the ninth inning helps the team a lot. I think it helps him a lot, as opposed to just kind of using a revolving door. But like I said, we're constantly evaluating that. And see guys that have done it, and then also guys that can progress into that role."
What About Jonathan Hernández?
Woodward: "He's another guy that, I mean, he's so effective. He can go two innings, maybe three times. He was a starter in the past. I'm not saying he's gonna start, but to have that kind of arm, with the way he threw the ball over the plate last year, he can mow down a time through the order because of the stuff. Left, right, it doesn't really matter.
"If he continues that trend, I would hate to just limit him to that one inning because it's such a weapon for teams to have. He can go in the six and seventh inning, or seventh and eighth inning, with the middle of their lineup. And it makes it a lot easier. It allows our offense a chance to extend our lead, or get the lead. Then the ninth inning becomes a non-factor.
"I want to challenge him either way. Either way, he's going to be pitching leverage innings, which he did last year. I don't think there was any he pitched last year that wasn't high leverage. So either way, he's going to pitch high leverage with us, whether it's the eighth, seventh, or ninth, it doesn't matter."
A Couple Non-Roster Invitees
Matt Bush played an important role out the bullpen on the last Rangers team to win the American League West division in 2016. Since then, control issues and injuries have derailed his big league career.
He's in Rangers camp, fully healthy, and already hitting 95 mph off the mound.
"He looked good," Woodward said. "I have never seen him outside of video. Obviously, the last couple years has been pretty rough for him. But it was really nice to see him on the mound. He's been through a lot in his career, obviously. He just had a calmness about him yesterday.
"The ball was coming out of his hand pretty well. When you're throwing 95, in a side session — in your first side session — it wasn't like it was out of control and trying to throw it as hard as he can. It was nice and easy, clean delivery. He was really happy with it. His curveball looked good. All of those pitches were coming out [well]. Like I said, you don't see that too often in a side session, topping and hitting 95-96. So it was really, really good for us to see that. And for him."
Bush has gone through a lot since being drafted first overall by the San Diego Padres in the 2004 MLB Draft. He's battled a number of personal and legal issues, including a drunk driving incident for which he served 39 months in state prison.
The Rangers gave Bush a chance to revive his baseball career after his release from prison, and became a mainstay in the back-end of the Rangers bullpen in 2016. He was unable to maintain the success in the following seasons, with injuries plaguing him along the way. The biggest blow came in July 2019, needing Tommy John surgery to repair his torn UCL.
"He's been through a lot of things in his career, in his life," Woodward said. "He's got elite stuff. If he can put all that together, that's a huge impact on a young staff, especially in the bullpen.
"We have a lot of young arms with some big stuff, but trying to get them to be consistent and develop these guys to be the pitchers that they're capable of, to have a guy like Matt in the bullpen that can really help that, just from a mindset standpoint. Just getting these guys to understand how to control their emotions, it's a huge benefit if he does make the team and he's on our roster."
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