Jose Leclerc wanted a chance to redeem himself Wednesday night, roughly 24 hours after blowing his first save since last season and seeing his scoreless innings streak snapped at 25 1/3 frames.
That’s a closer for you, and that’s the mentality Texas Rangers manager Chris Woodward wants from Leclerc.
So, when he stepped on the mound again in the ninth inning with a four-run cushion in a non-save situation, he promptly allowed a leadoff single to Ildemaro Vargas.
He then hit Carson Kelly, prompting a visit from pitching coach Julio Rangel.
Leclerc’s next pitch found the middle of Adam Jones’ back to load the bases with no outs.
Leclerc lasted two more batters. He retired Wilmer Flores on a pop up but walked Jarrod Dyson, who had foiled him Tuesday, to force in a run.
Out came Woodward, in came Kyle Bird, and the Rangers had to sweat out two tough at-bats for Bird to seal a 5-2 win.
All the good that happened -- Delino DeShields’ two-hit game, Hunter Pence’s first Rangers home run, Bird’s first career save and Lance Lynn’s six gritty innings -- was secondary to the concerns the Rangers suddenly have at closer.
“There’s always a level of concern,” Woodward said. “Obviously, he’s our closer. He’s our best pitcher. He legitimately is the best pitcher on our staff. We have to get him right mentally and physically. Hopefully everything comes together.”
The Rangers are off Thursday before opening a nine-game homestand Friday against the Oakland Athletics. But the Rangers weren’t going to wait that long to begin solving their sudden problem at the back of the bullpen.
Leclerc and Rangel watched video following the game, and Leclerc said he looked the same mechanically as during his dominant start to the season last week.
Rangel, though, thinks that Leclerc might be getting outside the ball when throwing a fastball instead of releasing it more out in front of him.
Whatever the case, Leclerc again didn’t seem too rattled.
“I know that’s going to happen, and I have to keep doing what I’m doing,” he said. “No matter what I want to get the win that day. We got the win today, thanks to Birdy. Tomorrow we have a day off, and I have to come back and get better at what I do.”
Leclerc signed a four-year, $14.75 million contract extension during spring training after his banner season in 2018. It came out of nowhere after a difficult 2017 campaign in which a lack of control defined him.
The pitches that hit Kelly and Jones were fastballs up and inside, with a 2017 look to them. Leclerc then all but abandoned the pitch, though it stayed up the few times he did throw it.
He continued to display command of his changeup, or Slambio.
But Leclerc can’t survive with that pitch alone.
The Rangers will be fast at work trying to get Leclerc back on track.
“They’re going to dig into some mechanical stuff to see what’s what,” Woodward said. “His fastball has been out of the zone pretty much out of hand. I have full confidence we’ll get it right.”