Texas Rangers

Leclerc’s issues cost him closer’s role. What could happen to other struggling Rangers?

Woodward explains why he hit for Odor in the ninth

Texas Rangers manager Chris Woodward said that he told Rougned Odor why he didn’t let him bat Wednesday with the game on the line.
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Texas Rangers manager Chris Woodward said that he told Rougned Odor why he didn’t let him bat Wednesday with the game on the line.

The moment that the Texas Rangers were hoping wouldn’t come arrived in the ninth inning Tuesday night, as Jose Leclerc struggled again as closer.

Until that time, manager Chris Woodward had shown nothing but the utmost confidence in Leclerc since his blown save April 9 and near blown save April 10 at Arizona.

He would continue to get the ball in the ninth inning, Woodward said, even after he almost coughed up a lead April 21 to the Houston Astros.

But the blown save Tuesday against the Pittsburgh Pirates was the moment when Woodward had to shift tack. Leclerc needs time away from closing games to clear his mind and find the form that gave the Rangers the faith in him in the first place.

Others who are struggling haven’t quite reached the point of forcing Woodward’s hand.

Leclerc wouldn’t have been available anyway Wednesday, considering his usage Tuesday, as the Rangers lost 7-5 and were swept in the two-game series. If the Rangers are in a position to use their closer Friday, it won’t be Leclerc.

“I told him today, regardless of what we do, ‘There will be a time when we’re pouring champagne over our head, and it’s because of you closing it out,’” Woodward said. “He’s in a tough place because he’s not selfish about it. He feels as if he’s letting everyone around him down.

“This game has a weird way of doing that do you when you’re down. It will just keep kicking you and pushing you down and keep testing you. This is a just a test. We’re going to get through it. We’re all going to support you and care about you. We’re going to get him through it, and in the end he’ll be better for it.”

The Rangers haven’t pinned down if Leclerc’s issues are related to mechanics or pressure he feels after signing a contract extension in the off-season or a combination of both. After a dominating first week of the season, he has been worse than he was as a rookie in 2017.

Shawn Kelley or Chris Martin will take over at closer, Woodward said, while Leclerc is working in lower-leverage situations.

“Leverage, but not high leverage,” Woodward said. “I don’t like the idea of taking him from the most leverage to the least leverage. That’s kind of silly.”

He wasn’t the only one whose struggles continued Tuesday and Wednesday, but he looks to be the only one facing an imminent role change.

Leclerc took the blown save Tuesday, but Jesse Chavez took the loss after allowing three runs in the 11th inning. The veteran righty has an 8.79 ERA and has allowed multiple runs in three of his past four outings.

Woodward said that Chavez has been too predictable on the mound and that the formula he used last season en route to a 2.55 ERA in 95 1/3 innings has been solved by opposing teams.

“Chavy is one of those things where I’m going to keep putting him out there,” Woodward said. “He’s going to get out of it at some point.”

Shelby Miller, coming off two starts in which he had taken steps forward, tossed three scoreless innings against the Pirates before yielding four runs in the fourth while recording only one out.

Miller’s longest outing of the season is 5 1/3 innings, and his ERA is 7.99 after six starts and only 24 2/3 innings. He’s trying to figure out how to keep crooked numbers off the scoreboard, and the Rangers, short on starters, aren’t going to pull him from the rotation.

“I felt pretty good throughout the whole time,” Miller said. “I need to leave those big innings behind me. It seems like it’s been a recipe all year.”

Offensively, Rougned Odor again is struggling to start a season, though the Rangers are giving him some margin of error as he comes back from an injury. General manager Jon Daniels, though, said that the second baseman has expanded his strike zone during a funk that predates his sprained right knee.

He entered Wednesday 2 for 20 in four games off the injured list and in a 4-for-44 slump overall. He went 0 for 4 to drop his average to .136 and wasn’t allowed to hit in the ninth inning with two outs and the tying run at second base. Hunter Pence struck out to end the game.

“I’m really close,” Odor said. “I’ve been feeling really good at the plate.”

Woodward is going to keep giving Odor time to work himself into a hot streak, though there might come a time when Odor is dropped from the No. 2 spot in the batting order.

“He’s still confident,” Woodward said. “It’s not getting him down to where a normal person would be dragging around. I’d like to see him get some results for his sake, because he’s worked really hard at trying to get them. I’m just hoping for that breakout game.”

That was the hope with Leclerc, too.

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After 11 seasons covering the Rangers for the Star-Telegram, Jeff Wilson knows that baseball is a 24/7/365 business and there is far more to baseball than just the 162 games each season. There’s also more to Jeff -- like a family and impressive arsenals of Titleist hats and adidas shoes -- but sometimes it’s hard to tell.
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