Rangers getting plenty of relief after spending on starters

Published Apr. 6, 2023 6:15 p.m. ET

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — The Texas Rangers have already gotten quite a bit of a relief after spending all of that big money on starters.

Texas relievers have thrown 21 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings since allowing their only two runs in the season opener after Jacob deGrom's early exit. After committing nearly a quarter-billion dollars putting together what could be the best starting rotation in team history, the Rangers went into their first off day of the season Thursday with the top bullpen: a MLB-best 0.73 ERA for the relievers, with opposing batters hitting only .134 against them through the first six games.

“They've done a terrific job, haven't they,” new Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said. “Very, very encouraging in the early go here with what's going on with the bullpen."

Texas signed two-time National League Cy Young Award winner deGrom ($185 million over five years), former All-Star right-hander Nathan Eovaldi ($34 million/two years) and lefty Andrew Heaney ($25 million/two years). That came the offseason after $500 million for All-Star middle infielders Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, plus $56 million for starter Jon Gray. Left-hander Martín Pérez returned to Texas at the start of last spring, then became a first-time All-Star and stayed this season on a $19.65 million qualifying offer.


As for the bullpen, the only current outside additions are veterans Will Smith and Ian Kennedy. Smith didn’t even sign his $1.5 million free agent contract until 2 1/2 weeks after spring training began. Kennedy was in camp as a non-roster player for the second time in three years, but is now in his 17th big league season.

The rest of the relievers are a trio of young left-handers who have been starters (Brock Burke, Taylor Hearn and Cole Ragans), two potential closers who had Tommy John surgery in 2021 and returned in the middle of last season (José Leclerc and Jonathan Hernández), and right-hander Dane Dunning after he got displaced from an expected rotation spot by all of the new additions.

Three relievers closed out deGrom’s second start, when he struck out 11 in six innings Wednesday to get his first win in Texas. That was a day after Heaney allowed seven runs over 2 2/3 innings in his Rangers debut before Dunning and Hearn combined for 6 1/3 scoreless innings.

“They’ve done a great job,” said deGrom, who in his Rangers debut six days earlier struck out seven but allowed five runs in 3 2/3 innings. “They’ve come in and thrown the ball really well.”

Dunning had a strong spring and remained with the big league club to pitch in long relief instead of going to Triple-A to keep starting. The same for Ragans, another former first-round pick who made his MLB debut with nine starts at the end of last season.

“They’ve been kind of like showing me the ropes of the bullpen and helping me out a lot, making sure that I’m ready for the innings that I need to be ready for,” Dunning said about leaning on the veteran relievers. “I’ve just been picking their brain on what I need to do to stay ready and be in the moment.”

Hearn, a big lefty and local product, made the transition to the bullpen during last season after he started the Rangers' home opener. Burke returned from shoulder surgery with a 1.97 ERA over 52 relief appearances.

A three-time World Series champion manager and well-known for his apt handling of bullpens, Bochy too has had to make adjustments. There were some rule changes made during his three-year retirement from the dugout, including the pitch clock and three-batter minimums.

“You're definitely looking at things differently thinking that way instead of batter to batter,” Bochy said. “It's taken away a little bit of a strategy, because once you've got a man in there, you're done for three hitters. But it's not too much of an adjustment.”

Especially with how Rangers relievers have pitched so far.


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