Texas Rangers preview: Bullpen could be an underrated asset

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While the Texas Rangers wait for the cavalry to arrive, the bullpen has the ability to surprise with unheralded weapons.

DALLAS — As it has now for 50 years in Arlington, the Texas Rangers entering a great baseball season with the pitching staff as a question mark.

In fact, even though the Rangers spent more than half a billion dollars revamping its offense this offseason, there are still doubts ahead of this season about its ability to topple a team that lost 102 games in 2021, mostly because the throwing looks at its best uncertain and bad at worst.

And while it may be true that an immediate lack of quality and quantity in the starting rotation makes contesting a dicey proposition for the Rangers, Texas has a chance for a surprise bullpen body. in 2022.

In fact, the bullpen in Texas wasn’t even as bad as one would expect for a team that finished third worst in baseball. In 2021, Rangers relievers sported a 4.13 ERA, good for 14th-best in baseball, which puts them just above the middle of the pack.

Gone in 2021 is first half closer Ian Kennedy, who saved 16 games for Rangers in 2021 before being traded to the Philadelphia Phillies at the trade deadline last season. In his place is Joe Barlow, who opens the 2022 season as the closer after claiming the role at the end of last season.

Barlow, a 2016 11th round pick, made his MLB debut on June 24, 2021 and eventually provided Texas with 29 innings where he struck out 27 and saved 11 games in 31 appearances. Joining Barlow for another round with Rangers are southpaws Kolby Allard, John King, Brett Martin and righties Dennis Santana and Josh Sborz.

After finishing the season in the rotation, Allard (5.45 ERA, 33 IP) is expected to take on a hybrid role as a southpaw longman out of the bullpen while King (3.52 ERA, 46 IP) and Martin (3.18 ERA, 62 ⅓ IP) will throw more left-sided impact innings. Santana (3.63 ERA, 39 ⅓ IP) and Sborz (3.97 ERA, 59 IP) will win innings for Rangers when play calls for a right-hander.

Another familiar face in the Texas bullpen is Matt Bush. After making his debut for the Rangers in 2016 after a long and memorable comeback effort, the former San Diego Padres’ No. 1 pick in 2004 is on his second comeback after several battles with injuries. The 36-year-old played four games at the end of the 2021 season for Texas in what appeared to be his swansong reward.

Instead, Bush landed a job in the bullpen in 2022 with a stellar spring training effort and, given his experience in the later innings, he could be tasked with being the best lever from the start. leaving the enclosure.

Texas is also welcoming some new faces with RHP Garrett Richards, signed after the lockout and RHP Albert Abreu, acquired from New York Yankees when Rangers sent receiver Jose Trevino to the Bronx on Saturday afternoon.

Richards, a career starter, moved to the bullpen last season at Boston where he had a 3.42 ERA in 26 ⅓ innings. Richards will be the first guy out of the bullpen to soak up innings on the right side. Meanwhile, Abreu (5.15 ERA, 36⅔ IP) will look to recover long after being a top 100 prospect as recently as 2018 as a starting pitcher in the Yankees organization.

The Rangers will also see the return of Brock Burke as the right-hander earned a spot in spring training after making his debut as a starter for Texas in 2019. After Texas acquired Burke from the Tampa Bay Rays in the three-team trade that sent Jurickson Profar to Oakland, Burke rose through the ranks but was battered by injuries and the pandemic before hitting rock bottom with a 5.68 ERA in 77 ⅔ innings for Round Rock the season last.

Burke never left Texas’s radar, however, and he will now return to the major leagues as a right-handed longman option to mirror Allard and Richards as someone who could step in and get a start if needed.

Additionally, Rangers have right-handers such as Spencer Patton, Nick Snyder, AJ Alexy and Glenn Otto as potential options down the line while RHP Chase Lee and LHP Cole Ragans open at Double-A Frisco but could possibly make their debuts in the ‘ pen for the Rangers this summer.

Two pitchers who won’t be on the Opening Day roster but should make an impact later in the season are RHPs Jose Leclerc and Jonathan Hernandez. Leclerc, who saved 26 games for Rangers between 2018 and 2019, pitched two innings in 2020 and then missed all of 2021 after Tommy John’s surgery.

Meanwhile, Hernandez, who had a breakout campaign in 27 appearances in 2020, also underwent Tommy John surgery and missed the 2021 season. Both are on track for a comeback and plan to join the team in June or July to provide a lift to the bullpen.

Overall, the bullpen for Texas doesn’t have any big names and potential All-Star performers right off the bat, but it’s a unit that has some solid under-the-radar performers and a good depth that will only be enhanced as their most electric arms return this summer.

Who do you think will ultimately lead the team in Rangers stoppages in 2022? Share your predictions with us on Twitter @BaseballTX.

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