Texas Rangers

Surprise Five: Rangers toying with bullpen options in light of six-man concept

Here are the storylines we're following at the Rangers 2018 spring training

The Rangers are in Arizona, and we have a few questions. Take a look at the storylines the Star-Telegram is looking into and let us know if you have any suggestions.
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The Rangers are in Arizona, and we have a few questions. Take a look at the storylines the Star-Telegram is looking into and let us know if you have any suggestions.

The Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals share the Surprise Recreation Campus, but there's a third team that calls it home each spring, too.

The Oregon State Beavers, one of the nation's top college baseball programs, make an annual trek south early in their season. They made their fourth consecutive season opener at Surprise Stadium last weekend and are back this weekend for the Pac 12-Big Ten Challenge.

This spring marks the ninth time since 2006 that Oregon State has played in Surprise, and one Rangers roster hopeful is thrilled they're back.

Darwin Barney starred on the 2006 and 2007 Beavers teams that won national titles and also played in Surprise. He said that he remains close to the program, and he even watched one of the games last weekend.

He and the Rangers will make their 2018 debut at Surprise Stadium on Sunday.

Here's the Surprise Five from Thursday.

1. The Rangers haven't announced the reported signing of right-hander Jesse Chavez, but manager Jeff Banister all but confirmed it during his daily media briefing.

Chavez is a candidate to fill a multi-innings relief role and potentially start games in case of an injury to one of the starters, be it five of them or six.

The question that prompted Banister to talk about Chavez was in regards to the six-man rotation forcing the Rangers to reassess the profile of relievers they want.

No longer will they be armed with six one-inning relievers and a long man. Instead, they want relievers who can effective navigate more than three outs and be able to do it efficiently enough to be able to do it again later in the same series or later in the same week.

"In today's landscape, pitchers are 5.1, 5.2 innings per start and you need guys with multiple innings," Banister said. "Being able to identify guys that can go multiple innings is something that is crucial on both sides of that — 5.1, 5.2 and covering more than four innings a night, and still can guys go back out and pitch in winning situations tomorrow.

"Jesse would be a great candidate. He's done it."

The Rangers aren't necessarily throwing stuff on a wall and seeing what sticks. They have been asking certain relievers to work multiple "innings" during live batting practice. Connor Sadzeck was one who did it Wednesday, and Nick Gardewine did it Thursday.

Tony Barnette is capable of doing it, Banister said, as is, among others, Austin Bibens-Dirkx. So, too, might be a couple of members of the rotation between starts. It would seem natural for Matt Bush and Mike Minor to be asked to work some relief innings.

That's great, and the multi-innings relievers have been trending in recent seasons and postseasons. But if the Rangers follow through with their threat of a six-man rotation, they would be altering their bullpen and their bench.

Sure seems like a lot to ask.

"As we sit today, we're talking about a landscape that has been used only sparingly," Banister said. "We're trying to find the players who can do that and can get up to speed to do that."

2. Here's a way that the non-baseball player can relate with baseball player Willie Calhoun: He doesn't like eating healthy food.

"Everything's that good is bad," he said.

As someone who lost 50 pounds, amen, brother.

But Calhoun choked down enough of the healthy stuff, combined with workouts, over the off-season to lose eight pounds. That doesn't sound like much, but it's not necessarily how much weight a player loses but also how he redistributes his weight.

Calhoun feels quicker and lighter on his feet as he tries to improve his defense, but he also feels as if he put on muscle during the off-season.

"Being down eight pounds, I'd say I feel really good going into the season," he said. "I'm feeling stronger and I'm feeling I can give it my all every single game."

The Rangers gave him a program during their exit interview at the end of last season with the goal of getting in better shape to play the large left field at Globe Life Park and to also survive a 162-game season.

As is often the case with minor-leaguers who have never played past August, just an extra month can be draining. Calhoun confirmed that his September call-up wore him down and opened his eyes.

The Rangers want him to continue to adhere to the things they outlined for him, not just regarding conditioning but also making sure he gets in extra work in the cages and in the outfield.

"I think that's still a work-in-progress," Banister said. "The importance of showing up every day and being attentive to not only the work on the field and the weight room, but the early work in the cage, on defense. There will be early base running.

"The physical and mental grind of a major-league season is extremely challenging. He's made some strides, but there are some things we still need to pay attention to."

Hey, it's a start.

3. Delino DeShields has taken Calhoun under his wing, showing him the ropes and advising him how to behave during his first big-league spring training. Just because Calhoun is a top prospect and spent September with the Rangers doesn't mean he has free reign in the clubhouse.

Every young player needs a mentor. Elvis Andrus had Michael Young and Adrian Beltre. Cole Hamels had Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Jamie Moyer. Rougned Odor has Andrus and Beltre.

Heck, we all need a mentor at some point.

Though much is taken care of for young players compared to the minors, like not having to tote their own equipment and luggage and flying on charters and getting a big bump in meal money, they still need to be pointed in the right direction.

Calhoun, for instance, has been to only four ballparks other than Globe Life as a player, including Petco Park for the 2016 Futures Game. He doesn't know the hotels in other cities or how to get to the ballpark and where to go once inside the ballpark. Some of those places are mazes beneath the stands.

Then, he will have to deal with the quirks of each outfield — the bounces off the wall, the way balls hop around in foul territory and in the corners, reading balls launched into roofs instead of the sky.

No matter how well he is mentored and how much he improves this spring, in a place that isn't easy to play outfield, Calhoun will have to keep learning during the season, whether he makes the Opening Day roster or is called up during the season, and will likely encounter some bumps.

Patience will be a virtue.

4. The Rangers announced their pitching for their first two Cactus League games Saturday and Sunday, and Matt Bush is going to get his first start Sunday. That's about as must-see as a February spring game can get.

Here are the pitching probables for the lid-lifter at the Chicago Cubs and the first home game against the Colorado Rockies (Mike Minor is scheduled to start Monday, but that's all the Rangers announced):

Saturday: RHPs Clayton Blackburn, Austin Bibens-Dirkx, Adrian Sampson, Jose Leclerc, Connor Sadzeck, Deolis Guerra.

Sunday: RHP Bush, RHP Ronald Herrera, RHP Paolo Espino, LHP David Hurlbut, RHP Ricky Rodriguez, RHP Erik Goeddel

Looks like the Rangers are getting all their righties out of the way. Blackburn, Leclerc, Sadzeck, Bush, Herrera and Rodriguez are all on the 40-man roster.



5. Andrus expects to return to action Friday after taking another day off to rest his back. Again, there's no need to worry about the spasms, which he says are an annual event, or to expect him and many other regulars to see much early action in Cactus League games.

For those pining for stories on the regulars, check out the links below from earlier this spring.

No-win situation? Not necessarily, if these things happen.

The State of Adrian address.

Andrus arrives early, eardrums suffer.

Brocail not feeling hot seat.

Here's the catch.

As always, you can catch up on missed Rangers stories here (like or follow my Facebook page) and here.

Until tomorrow ...

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