Alex Claudio, the Texas Rangers lefthanded pitcher who bounced up and down between the minors and majors several times early in 2016 before earning the trust of the organization and claiming a significant role in the bullpen, has earned “street cred” with Jeff Banister, according to Jeff Wilson on Twitter.
Claudio’s 2016 was kind of strange, as he was pilloried by fans and some in the media early on in the season, with many claiming he was a waste of a 40 man roster space, much less a 25 man roster spot. It was clear in the first half of the year that Jeff Banister didn’t trust Claudio, and yet, after a shaky stretch early on, when Claudio got the ball, he generally came through...and with few others in the pen earning much trust, Banister turned to Claudio more and more often. The final result was a 2.79 ERA and a 2.97 FIP in 51.2 IP over 39 appearances.
Claudio wasn’t missing many bats, but he also didn’t walk hitters and kept the ball in the park. He was particularly deadly against lefthanded hitters last year, limiting them to a 449 OPS in 63 plate appearances.
With Jake Diekman on the shelf for the first half of the season, Claudio is suddenly the most trusted lefty in the bullpen heading into 2017. Still, his ability to go multiple innings, along with his unorthodox style (he’s a sidewinder whose fastball averages just 85 mph, and whose out pitch is a changeup), seems to make him someone who is more likely to be used in a middle relief role than in the setup role Diekman handled.
The other factor for Claudio’s use in 2017 is that there may not be room in the pen for either a true long man or a second lefty. Right now, Sam Dyson, Keone Kela, Matt Bush, Tony Barnette, and Jeremy Jeffress all appear to be locks for the major league pen. Tanner Scheppers would seem to be likely to join them. Barring injury (or the Rangers going with a 3 man bench and an 8 man pen), Claudio would seem to be both the Rangers’ primary multi-inning option to start the season and the team’s lone lefty pen man.
There are several other candidates for both roles — Wesley Wright, Andrew Faulkner, and Adam Loewen are lefty relief options in camp, and A.J. Griffin, Mike Hauschild, Nick Martinez, Anthony Bass, and Dillon Gee could all be in the mix for a long man role — but Claudio’s success last year, as well as his versatility, could give the Rangers some additional flexibility in how they want to round out their staff to start the year.