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 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."
The Gallo shift
The Astros employed a four-man outfield each time Joey Gallo was at the plate.
And it worked to perfection on Opening Day.
Gallo flew out to left twice, once to right, and struck out in the Rangers' 4-1 loss at Globe Life Park.
Astros third baseman Alex Bregman was positioned in straight away left field while left fielder Josh Reddick and center fielder Jake Marisnick flanked either side of center field and right fielder George Springer.
"That's the first time I’ve ever seen that," 21-year veteran Adrian Beltre said. "Baseball is getting weird. And it worked."
"I still go out and do what I do. I’m not going to completely switch my approach I’ve had my whole life," Gallo said. "I’m trying to do damage and if I hit the ball the right way like I plan on doing the shift won’t matter anyway."
Gallo said laying down a bunt with most of the left side of the infield wide open has occurred to him. But Opening Day wasn't the time.
"I think about it, but I try to save it for a time when I need it or I don’t feel good at the plate," he said. "I felt pretty good today, I was seeing the ball pretty well so I wanted to give myself a chance to swing the bat and see what happens. Today, for me, it wasn’t the right time to do it."
Gallo, who improved last year at hitting more to left field, said he could keep defenses honest by doing it more.
"If I could get a few cheap knocks over there that would be nice, too," he said. "We still have a few games to figure it out."
Elvis Andrus thinks Gallo should make bunting towards third base part of his game if defenses play him that way.
"They’re trying to get his power out of him, but he needs to make an adjustment," Andrus said. "I think if he bunts two or three times, by the fourth time, they’re going to move, or you’re going to get four hits every single day."
Justin Verlander was on and that's never good for opposing batters. The Astros' ace outdueled Rangers' left-hander Cole Hamels to lead Houston to a 4-1 Opening Day win over Texas Thursday afternoon at Globe Life Park.
Verlander held the Rangers to four singles and two walks over six innings to earn the win. Hamels was pegged with the loss after allowing three runs on fives hits and four walks in 5 2/3 innings.
Hamels twice worked out of messes to prevent a bigger hole for the Rangers. He struck out seven, including two in the first with Alex Bregman at second base.
Verlander had most of the Rangers' lineup baffled, except for Adrian Beltre, who had two of the six hits in the game (and two of the four against Verlander).
"It’s not a secret what he can do. He was tough today. He was elevating his fastball," Beltre said.
Failing to strike early, Elvis Andrus said, allowed Verlander to settle in with a lead. The Rangers had the first two batters on in the second but Shin-Soo Choo hit into a 4-6-3 double play and Verlander struck out Robinson Chirinos to strand Beltre at third.
Rougned Odor led off the third inning with single but Verlander picked him off at first for the second out.
"When you face any top pitcher in this league and you let him feel comfortable through the first few innings, it’s always going to be tough to get back and try to put something together," Andrus said.
The Rangers were left to respectfully tipping their caps to Verlander after the game.
"He’s one of the best pitchers in the game, if not the best, so you know that coming into it," Joey Gallo said. "You know it’s going to be a grind up there."