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The Texas Rangers bullpen is a problem. Again.

Three 9th inning leads blown two weeks into the season, and we are once again doing the bullpen shuffle in Arlington

Huge Fire At Recycling Plant In Sherburn-in-Elmet Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

The Texas Rangers bullpen.


I really didn’t want to be writing about this again. Just five days ago I did a post on The Sam Dyson Situation.

I assumed at the time that the Rangers would use Dyson in low-leverage situations for a while, and mix and match at closer until Matt Bush or Jeremy Jeffress or someone took over for good.

Instead, Dyson pitched Saturday night in Seattle, retired all three batters, and then was apparently cleared for a save situation yesterday.

I didn’t get it at the time. Stefan Stevenson tweeted that based on Jeff Banister’s post-game comments, he didn’t think that Banister planned on using Dyson as the closer yesterday, but a “chain of events” led to the move.

The “chain of events,” however, was foreseeable, and I’m not sure the moves Banny made make sense unless you are going with Dyson as your closer.

The first problem was Cole Hamels being less than sharp, something that has happened with uncomfortable frequency since late last season. Hamels was given a 6-1 lead, gave up a 3 run home run to Mitch Haniger (after hitting Leonys Martin to lead off that inning), and ended up going only five innings, with four runs allowed.

That’s not what you expect from Cole Hamels.

Enter Tony Barnette in the 6th inning. Barnette gave up a pair of doubles in the sixth inning, making it a 6-5 game, and one would have thought that Banister would have gone to a new pitcher in the 7th. Instead, he had Barnette start the 7th, and Barnette gave up a home run to Guillermo Heredia to start the inning.

Banister then used three different pitchers — Barnette, Alex Claudio, and Jeremy Jeffress — to retire the next three batters. This was baffling. You don’t have Mike Hauschild available, presumably (and even if you do have him, you probably don’t want to use him in a close game). That leaves Dario Alvarez, Jose Leclerc, Matt Bush and Sam Dyson available. Bush has been shut down for a week, Dario isn’t trusted and is a lefty specialist, and Dyson is Dyson.

In a tie game on the road in the 7th, do you really want to burn Alex Claudio — one of your better relievers, and one who can go multiple innings — on one batter? And then, once you’ve pulled him for Jeffress, use Jeffress for just one batter?

I don’t get it. The only explanation I can figure is that Banister decided that Dyson had earned the closer’s role back, and thus was going to pitch the ninth. And was going to pitch the ninth even though Matt Bush needed just 11 pitches to strike out the side in the 8th.

And yes, the response is, well, Bush is just back from a shoulder injection, but he only needed 11 pitches. Presumably he gets enough rope to start the 9th, given the low pitch count? Especially given how well he was throwing?

But no, we didn’t get Bush. And we didn’t get Leclerc, who has been lights out. Instead we got Dyson. And yeah, he wasn’t awful — as has been pointed out at length, he didn’t allow a ball out of the infield — but he walked Haniger with the bases loaded, and didn’t seem to have his command, which is what caused the problems earlier in the year.

End result is Dyson is presumably done as closer, the Rangers lost another game they had a big lead early in, and were leading in the 9th inning, and we’re scratching our heads about Banister’s bullpen moves.

Of course, we can talk about all sorts of other things in yesterday’s game, about the Rangers leaving the bases loaded in the 7th and the 8th innings, about Gallo’s home run that was stolen by Haniger, about the defensive issues...but if I start talking about all of those things, I’ll end up with a 5000 word post that will make me even more depressed.

So. The bullpen.

For the third season in a row, the Rangers are replacing their closer early, and are grappling with issues with a bullpen that they had hoped would be a strength.

I can’t see Dyson pitching in a meaningful situation anytime soon. The people calling for him to be released are being dumb, but you can’t roll him out there even in a setup role right now. I don’t know if you make him a mop up guy right now, or option him (I believe he has an option remaining), or put him on the d.l. and send him to AAA on a rehab assignment and see if he can get things straightened out. But he’s not, I’d think, in the mix as a “winning piece” in the pen at this point.

Also not a “winning piece” right now is Mike Hauschild, the Rule 5 pick who went from being talked about as if he had nailed down a rotation spot early in March to looking like a AAA pitcher being asked to pitch to major leaguers in the regular season. He’s not looked good in any of his three appearances, and I’m not sure the team can afford to keep him on the active roster if he isn’t going to be anything other than a mop-up guy.

Tony Barnette was a revelation last year, but hasn’t been as sharp so far this season. Like Dyson, Barnette’s command seems a little off, and he appears to not be getting the sink he needs on his fastball to be effective. He’s not fallen out of the Tree of Trust, but its worth keeping an eye on.

Claudio, meanwhile, based on his usage this weekend, is either a lefty specialist or a long man, depending on the game situation. The Rangers clearly don’t trust him to face righthanders in key situations.

Ditto Dario Alvarez, the second lefty, who isn’t even really a long man option, and who seems to be on the roster right now just because the Rangers don’t have another relief pitcher they want in the majors.

That leaves Bush, Jeffress, and Leclerc. All have been effective this year. All come with caveats. Bush is dealing with the shoulder issue that he got the injection for, and last year didn’t seem to handle pitching on back-to-back days well. Jeffress doesn’t miss a ton of bats, and has already been used in 8 games on the year (which, of course, would help explain why Banister used him for just one batter yesterday, though that brings us back to, why not use Claudio for more than one batter?). And Leclerc has been awesome, but also has a track record of not being able to find the strike zone, so there is a natural reluctance to trust him too much right now while we wait and see if his control is about to turn back into a pumpkin.

I have to think that Keone Kela is going to be back up sooner rather than later, and that should help. Kela was optioned for being an ass in B game and pissing off some veterans, apparently including Adrian Beltre, so the demotion was disciplinary in nature, rather than performance based. And Kela has faced 18 batters in AAA so far, struck out 8 of them, walked 1 and allowed just 5 hits, so his performance would seem to play in the majors.

However, for an organization that is extremely cognizant of team chemistry and clubhouse culture, one has to wonder if they are really going to want to bring Kela back up so soon, especially when he would essentially be replacing the well-liked and -respected Dyson.

Its hard to identify anyone else who is really in the mix. The Rangers could consider R.J. Alvarez — he’s not on the 40 man, after having been outrighted over the winter, but he had a solid spring. He has allowed 4 runs in 3.2 IP in Round Rock, but he’s also struck out 8 of the 20 batters he’s faced down there. Anthony Bass could get a look as a long man if they cut bait with Hauschild -- he was here in 2015, and has struck out 16 of the 29 batters he’s faced in Round Rock, which I keep looking at and trying to figure out if it is a typo.

After that, you’ve got guys like Nick Gardewine and Clayton Cook and maybe Connor Sadzeck, guys in Frisco who could maybe be on the radar as a bullpen option later in the season, but who you would think aren’t ready now (or, in the case of Sadzeck, the team wants to keep developing as a starter).

So at this point, my guess is Kela comes up, either for Alvarez or Dyson or Hauschild, the Rangers scour the waiver wire for someone who might become useful, and start looking real closely at the guys in Round Rock and Frisco, in case more wheels come off going forward.