Rangers’ Bullpen Struggles In Opening Series, But Don’t Panic

Texas Rangers catcher Bryan Holaday (8) and relief pitcher Tom Wilhelmsen (54) talk during the fifth inning of the team's exhibition baseball game against the Cleveland Indians on Friday April 1, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. The Indians won 9-1. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Yes, the Rangers did not open up the season as fast as we would have liked them to. Yes, the bullpen did give up 14 earned runs the last two games, with Tom Wilhelmsen and Shawn Tolleson both giving up five runs without recorded an out. They were outscored 21-10 over the first three games of the 2016 season. And it’s all going to be okay.

The Rangers first series against their division rival Seattle Mariners did not go as planned, as the Mariners stole two of three from the Rangers in Arlington. With game two tied at two in the sixth, the Rangers went to the bullpen after a very solid outing from Martin Perez, who rolled out six innings, giving up just two hits – one being a Nelson Cruz shot to left-center. After just 88 pitches, Rangers Manager Jeff Banister chose to go to his bullpen, summoning rookie Tony Barnette. Barnette then gave up two runs in just 0.2 innings of work and needed Jake Diekman to come in and extinguish the fire to get the final out of the 7th inning. After a scoreless bottom half of the inning, the Rangers brought in newly acquired relief pitcher, and former Mariner, Tom Wilhelmsen to face the heart of the Mariners lineup. What happened next was not ideal.

Robinson Cano home run.
Nelson Cruz double.
Kyle Seager double.
Seth Smith home run.
Chris Iannetta HPB.

Wilhelmsen ejected.

Wilhelmsen was immediately tossed for throwing at Iannetta, which caused the benches to clear and saw managers Banister and Scott Servais jawing at each other. Shortly after, second-year lefty Andrew Faulkner came into relieve the ejected Wilhelmsen (who left the game with an infinite ERA) and surrendered a two-run home run to former Ranger Luis Sardinas to bring the score to 10-2.

The two questions I took away from the second game:

1. Would it have suited the Rangers better to Let Perez go another inning after retiring five out of the last six he faced, including a double play to send them down in order?
2. Would it have better suited Banister to go to one of his proven back inning guys, such as Keone Kela or Sam Dyson, who had not pitched yet in the young season, rather than going to Tony Barnette, making his major league debut?

In the rubber game of the three-game set, Colby Lewis struggled early giving up a first inning two-run homer to Cano, and a second inning solo shot to former Ranger Leonys Martin. This was a typical Colby Lewis outing, where he worked his way through adversity and ended up producing the Rangers third quality start in as many games this season.

In the seventh, Keone Kela relieved Lewis and promptly gave up two singles and a walk, as well as recording a strikeout in 0.2 innings. He was replaced by Jake Diekman, who was brought in to face Cano. Diekman walked Cano with the bases loaded, bringing the Mariners to within a run at 5-4. Banister then brought in Dyson, who got the job done by getting Cruz to fly out to center on one pitch. Dyson breezed through the eighth inning, and all looked bright for the Rangers to secure the win, and a series win heading into the ninth where closer Shawn Tolleson was brought in to secure the win.

The next 5 at-bats are as followed:

Nori Aoki (pinch-hitting for Steve Clevenger) single.
Ketel Marte single.
Martin double, scoring Aoki.
Seager single, scoring Marte and Martin
Cano two-run home run.

Just like that, the Rangers are 1-2 heading out for the first road trip of the season – a four-game series with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. While the bullpen struggled mightily over the six innings it pitched the last two games, it is not the time to panic. Tolleson had a fantastic breakout year last season. With the newly acquired Wilhelmsen and a full year of Diekman and Dyson, Tolleson should not have to pitch as much as he did last year, keeping his arm fresher and ready to go.

I’m not ready to strip him of his closer role after one bad outing, but I would like to see Banister exploit some matchups, which would perhaps see Tolleson pitching in the 7th or 8th, in a potentially more high-leverage situation than a two-run, no one on lead in the ninth. That goes for everyone in the ‘pen. If one night, the ninth consists of big home run/strikeout hitters, I’d prefer Dyson and his sinker over anyone to get them out. If there’s two or three lefties coming up, I’d prefer Diekman due to his wicked arm angle that is nearly impossible for any left-handed hitter to pick up on. Things happen over a 162 game season, and after three of them, it is simply not the time to panic. Wilhelmsen will be good. Tolleson will be good. The bullpen will be good. It’s just a matter of time before these guys get into their groove, and show us why we think this is the strength of the Rangers.

Things happen over a 162 game season, and after three of them, it is simply not the time to panic. Wilhelmsen will be good. Tolleson will be good. The bullpen will be good. It’s just a matter of time before these guys get into their groove, and show us why we think this is the strength of the Rangers.

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Jeff Cooperstein
I'm a Junior at UNT, and a lover of all things sports.
@JCoopJR27

One comment

  • Nice article Jeff. I agree – this pen is going to end up being a true strength of this team. The roles, however, may end up changing hands as the season unfolds.

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