Strong Like Bullpen

If the Rangers had any 2012 player back, I’d want it to be Koji Uehara. His 10.75 K/9 and his 1.75 ERA were something I knew I’d miss dearly. Not to mention that huge glove and the excitement he took with him off the mound after every outing. But I digress. A solid bullpen is really instrumental in winning ballgames. If you don’t believe that statement, please take a look at the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. When a starting pitcher has a day where he’s a bit off, it’s nice to have a bullpen be able to save the day. When the offense can’t quite get going, but the starting pitcher has been solid, the bullpen needs to keep up the momentum. A lot can change with one pitch.
With the signing of Jason Frasor and Derek Lowe, my want for Koji Uehara back in the bullpen grew stronger. Joakim Soria seemed like a decent piece, but his injury sidelined him for half a season, and Michael Kirkman has never dazzled like he was rumored to in the bigs. Tanner Scheppers underwhelmed in 2012, but he was new around these parts, and a second chance was warranted. Robbie Ross shined in 2012, but became a victim of overuse. Joseph Ortiz was largely uncharted territory, being a rookie in 2013. Then there’s Joe Nathan, who is just great. This bullpen didn’t exactly settle my Koji Uehara woes.

Just over a month into the season, my Uehara woes have settled a bit. The current Rangers bullpen has three young players who have shown great strength so far. Tanner Scheppers put the 2012 season behind him and has come out strong in 2013. In 15 innings, Scheppers has allowed only 1 earned run. His ERA is a stunning 0.53. His BABIP is low at .229 but will likely rise throughout the season. However, his opponents’ batting average sits at .207 currently—the lowest of the relievers. Robbie Ross has shined again this season with a 0.64 ERA and an outstanding 2.64 FIP. He’s stranded every base runner he has inherited so far. In 14 innings, he’s also allowed only 1 earned run. Joseph Ortiz was a player to watch during Spring Training, and certainly earned his the spot in the ‘pen. With a 3.18 ERA and a great 2.57 FIP, Ortiz has been holding his own on the mound. His K/BB matches Joe Nathan’s at 6.50. He’s young and unproven in the MLB, but has been solid. The only fear here is “2012 Robbie Ross” usage, and he could get gassed toward the latter half of the season.

The less than impressive side of the bullpen comes from Derek Lowe, Jason Frasor, and Michael Kirkman. Frasor has been used sparingly, pitching only 9 innings in the first 34 games. He and Lowe are relief guys not to be used in high-leverage situations. Sometimes the team just needs a guy to eat some innings. Hearing the name “Lowe” is never easy. Mark Lowe was scary last year, and Derek has been in over his head this year. Derek Lowe was supposed to be the solid veteran in the bullpen, but he has been nothing close to that with a 5.56 ERA. While Michael Kirkman also has a high ERA, his K/9 is 10.54 and his BABIP is higher than the average at .439. The BABIP will likely lower, and he has the ability to miss bats, so I can understand the want to keep running him out to the mound to see what he’s got.

Then there’s Joe Nathan. The heart attack closer. He’ll give up a hit or two. He’ll maybe walk a guy, but he’s good. Batters are only hitting .217 against him, with 13 strikeouts in 12 innings pitched. His strikeout rate is 26.5%. While we can all gripe and complain about how closers and saves aren’t productive, the closer role is one that will be around for a while. Joe is the best candidate for that role. He’s the most effective guy in the bullpen on a consistent basis. He is the true veteran who still has life left. I’d like to see him be the one chosen to get the two outs with runners on 2nd and 3rd in the 6th inning during a 2-1 ballgame, but he won’t be. However, I do like seeing him in the 9th in a 5-4 ballgame knowing that the lead is safe and the win is all-but-secured.

Joseph Ortiz is 22 years old. Robbie Ross is 24. Tanner Scheppers, 26. These young arms in the bullpen are showing their strength early. The fact that they are so young really helps the sustainability of their talent. Scheppers was rocked a bit last season, but has come out in 2012 ready and well. Ross was gassed by the end of 2012, but with better training and the possibility of being a starter, he should be able to handle the season. Ortiz is young. Things could get messy for him, but you can’t argue with the results so far. It’s difficult to be unhappy with the bullpen so far, since it’s held up so nicely. The young men run it, and Joe Nathan shuts it out. The addition of Joakim Soria and the exit of Lowe or Frasor will only make it stronger, and maybe lessen the burden on the young guys. There’s also the possibility of Neftali Feliz getting healthy and likely being a late-inning bullpen guy. Things are looking good.

The #bullpenisstrong, Rangers fans.

Emily Cates is a Staff Writer for Shutdown Inning. You can reach her at or on Twitter at @EmLikesBaseball.
Emily Cates

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