Texas Rangers

For starters, Keone Kela to get first shot as Rangers' closer

Robinson Chirinos, left, talks with Texas Rangers relief pitcher Keone Kela during an appearance in June. Kela made his first appearance since June 27 Saturday in the eighth inning against the Rays.
Robinson Chirinos, left, talks with Texas Rangers relief pitcher Keone Kela during an appearance in June. Kela made his first appearance since June 27 Saturday in the eighth inning against the Rays. AP

Keone Kela will open the season as the Texas Rangers closer.

Manager Jeff Banister said Kela will get the ball unless he's worked the previous two games. In that case, Kevin Jepsen, a veteran right-hander who was added from Triple A Round Rock Thursday morning, would close.

"We’d love to be able to establish a closer. It’s something we’ve been a little challenged with," Banister said. "We’ve made changes in the first or second month all three years."

Banister said he'd prefer to allow a pitcher, in this case Kela, an opportunity to establish his role as the team's closer.

"It’s not a bullpen or close by committee type scenario. I’ve never really wanted that," Banister said, referring to past bullpen issues that arose in his previous three seasons with the Rangers. "Once we’ve had a guy establish that he can close games out we’ve let him close games out."

Left-hander Alex Claudio earned the job a year ago after Sam Dyson and Matt Bush both struggled. But Claudio is more valuable available at other times in a game, not just the ninth, Banister said.

"When you run the scenarios over and over where his value is, it’s not just the ninth inning," he said. "Similar to Bush. These guys are one-plus type pitchers who can come in the sixth or seventh and come back out for you. Those guys are invaluable."

Jake Dikeman and Chris Martin will assume set-up roles.

"Keone has as good a stuff as there is out there. It’s consistency of being available," Banister said. [Jepsen] has shown some promise in spring training. He’s a veteran. I don’t think situations are going to be the challenge for him.

Jose Le Clerc will be used in low leverage situations to help build his confidence up after struggling to throw strikes with his fastball a year ago.

"We’ll try to be as strategic as we possibly can with his outings," he said. "Build that confidence level back up."

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