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Texas Rangers Spring Training Preview, Part Three of Five: Relief Pitching

March 13, 2010

The bullpen may be the biggest group of unsung heroes in recent years for the Rangers.

They haven’t had any big flashy names, but for the most part they have kept games close, and have been able to close them out when given the chance.

When considering the 2010 bullpen for the Rangers it is easiest to start with the givens.

Frank Francisco will be the closer this year. As for the future, who knows? He is an adequate closer, and should build on last year. Coming back from surgery he sometimes got tired and had to take additional rest, but that should all be behind him now.

He had flashes of his earlier brilliance last year, but never really pushed himself over the top. This is his year to not only secure his spot as a closer for the Rangers, but show other teams what he can do should the Rangers go in a different direction.

Darren Oliver is the old man of the staff, but has found improved success in recent years. After starting his career with the Rangers in 1993 he hopped around the Majors pitching mostly as a starter with limited success.

However, he has really found his groove as a reliever.

Since the Mets made him exclusively a reliever in 2006 his ERA has consistently gone down. He should provide veteran leadership to this staff, and if nothing else, he can’t help the Angels anymore.

On a staff of widely unknown pitchers, Darren O’Day was probably the best surprise.

After coming over from the Mets O’Day appeared in 64 games and had an ERA under two. He averaged just under a strikeout an inning, and held opponents to a .188 batting average.

His strikeout to walk ratio was better than 3 to 1, and when playing in such a hitter’s park, it is vital to not give up those free passes, and to be able to get those crucial strikeouts.

CJ Wilson will also definitely find a slot on this pitching staff somewhere. He seems to want to be in the rotation, but it makes so much more sense to keep him in the bullpen.

He is yet to show that he can be a starter at the Major League level, and despite my dislike for him, his numbers show quite a bit of quality in the bullpen. With how competitive the starting competition is, I think he will be back as a setup man this year.

The team insists that Neftali Feliz is not guaranteed a spot on this pitching staff, and he shouldn’t be. We have all seen his phenomenal fastball, and were wowed by his strikeout totals, but this is a brand new season.

Much like Wilson, he belongs in the bullpen this season.

He may very well develop some more pitches and become a frontline starter, but he is not there yet, and there are other players ready now. If the future plan is for him to be a starter then it makes sense for him to go down to AAA and get the experience he so badly needs.

However, I think he, and the team, would be better served by turning him into a dominant closer. With the heat he throws, it seems like a no brainer to me. Either way he has to continue to develop more pitches if he is going to be successful.

Dustin Nippert has made a strong case for himself this spring throwing five innings of shutout baseball and allowing opposing hitters to only a .063 average. Due to the logjam at starter, Nippert makes a lot of sense as a long reliever, and should start the season in the bullpen.

There are numerous other pitchers who have a shot at making the team, but I don’t see any particular favorites at this point.

Chris Ray is coming off a tough season with the Orioles. He joined the team this winter as part of the Millwood deal, and is looking to rebound with his Tommy John surgery another year behind him.

Doug Mathis, Willie Eyre, Guillermo Moscoso, and Warner Madrigal all had varied success with the Rangers last year and should find roles in the bullpen at sometime this season.

After so many years of living in a pitching wasteland the Rangers are in a position to be a little more selective with their pitchers. This should also encourage more competition amongst the staff which is better for everyone.

Another area that the Rangers seemed to have been overloaded as of late is the outfield…

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