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‘Closer by committee’: After losing Jose Leclerc, Rangers navigate bullpen with less defined roles

The Rangers bullpen allowed three runs in Texas' 9-2 loss to San Francisco on Friday.

Texas’ season-opening win July 24 showed how a prototypical win in 2020 would look. Six solid innings from a starter. Then a trio of relievers in somewhat set roles — Jesse Chavez in the seventh, Jonathan Hernandez in the eighth and Jose Leclerc in the ninth.

A week later, and those set roles are no more. Not as many MLB teams have set closers. But the Rangers lost theirs Wednesday when Leclerc suffered a grade 2 tear of the teres major muscle in his right shoulder.

Now, Texas will employ a system that is a huge change of course.

“I hate to use the words closer by committee,” manager Chris Woodward said. “But we are going to do the best we can based on experience and how guys are throwing, see how well they match up with that part of the lineup.”

Woodward didn’t need his top bullpen arms Friday night in Texas’ 9-2 loss to San Francisco. The bullpen allowed three runs after Mike Minor allowed six runs. Eight of the Giants’ nine runs came with two outs.

Offensively, Texas managed no hits between the fourth and eighth innings, and didn’t take off after Shin-Soo Choo blasted a home run on the first pitch of the game.

“We’re just not getting the bit hit,” Woodward said. “... We need to start to coming through in those situations.”

As for who could fill the role on a given night, Woodward listed just about everybody in his bullpen. He trusts guys with experience, so he said possibly Edinson Volquez, the 37-year-old veteran.

But, he said, Jonathan Hernandez, 24, has the stuff to be a closer, so he’s also an option.

Then, he said some more names.

“I have no problems putting [Ian] Gibaut, [Luke] Farrell in there, Chavez with his experience,” Woodward said. “We can go any way we want as long as the experience, the way they are pitching and the way the match up comes together.”

Then, of course, there’s the man who got the save easily Wednesday, Nick Goody, who could also potentially get more looks as a closer if the matchups call for it.

Some of the set roles might have gone out the window with Leclerc’s injury. But for the time being, it’s only a loss of one player. That, though, can create a domino effect.

“If we do this right,” Woodward said, “we can get creative and all our guys are on board, they are all excited about it. They are going to pitch in situations they haven’t in the past, and we are going to learn a lot about our guys.”

There are a lot of options for Woodward, and he hopes to have all of them at his arsenal. As of now, two critical Rangers pitchers have been lost to basically the exact same injury — Corey Kluber was lost for at least 45 days after suffering a teres major tear Sunday.

The concern of why the Rangers are in this predicament, and why other top pitchers such as Justin Verlander and Stephen Strasburg have gone down, lies potentially in the three-week ramp-up to the season. That’s far shorter than the six weeks budgeted for most spring trainings.

“The numbers are pretty high right now,” pitcher Jordan Lyles said. “And I don’t see that stopping. … Having to ramp up as quick as we did, the second time, injuries are going to happen more so than a normal spring training. … They’re going to continue to happen.”

Lyles actually made his first appearance this season out of the bullpen Tuesday after his first start in the rotation was skipped.

At that time there was an abundance of pitching, and the Rangers had to find an inning for him to get some work. His spot was clear, the No. 5 starter. Now, with a couple of pitchers out for an extended period of time, his role is less defined but arguably more critical.

In that aforementioned opener just a week before, the 1-0 late lead presented Woodward with a chance to show how he would use his bullpen every night if he could. Reliable relievers, each going an inning.

There are no ideal options for closer. Volquez spent much of his career as a starter. Hernandez has pitched in a dozen MLB games. Chavez has eight MLB saves in 13 years.

Woodward might not like the term “closer by committee,” but it’s the best terminology for him to use as he navigates that ninth inning.

Briefly: Rangers outfielder Danny Santana hasn’t played in the last two games, and Woodward said Friday night that he wouldn’t start the next two games, either.

“He’s ok,” Woodward said. “He’s just got a bit of arm soreness, so we’re just kind of taking it easy on him.”

Woodward said Santana would be available to pinch-hit and run if needed the next two games. He started the season 1-for-17 with eight strikeouts.

Who’ll get saves?

NameAppearancesSaves
Jose Leclerc19029
Jesse Chavez4668
Jonathan Hernandez120
Edinson Volquez2890
Ian Gibaut130
Nick Goody1441
Brett Martin510

Find more Rangers stories from The Dallas Morning News here.

In This Story

Sam Blum, Staff Writer. Sam covers SMU athletics and the Texas Rangers for The Dallas Morning News, and previously covered Auburn University athletics for AL.com. He's also covered University of Virginia athletics for The Daily Progress in Charlottesville. He graduated from Syracuse University.

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