With two under-the-radar moves at the trade deadline last July, the Texas Rangers turned their unreliable bullpen into the strength of the 2015 club and rode it, in large part, to the American League West title.
Left-hander Jake Diekman was the other player in the trade that brought Cole Hamels over from the Phillies, and right-hander Sam Dyson was acquired in a trade with the Miami Marlins for catching prospect Tomas Telis and left-handed pitcher Cody Ege.
They combined with Keone Kela and Shawn Tolleson to give the Rangers a lockdown ’pen the final two months of the season.
Dyson and Diekman together allowed just nine earned runs in 53 innings for the Rangers. In the off-season, the Rangers added Tom Wilhelmsen in a trade that sent Leonys Martin to the Mariners and signed Tony Barnette off his success in Japan.
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Add to the mix hard-throwing left-hander Andrew Faulkner and the Rangers have the makings of the club’s best-ever bullpen, which, if you follow the Kansas City Royals’ blueprint for success, is how the World Series is won.
Here’s a look back at Rangers’ prominent bullpen arms of the past five seasons:
Neftali Feliz, 22, finished a league-high 59 games over 69 1/3 innings, which included 40 saves. Matt Harrison threw 44 1/3 innings out of the bullpen and went 2-1 with two saves. In his final season in the majors, Dustin Nippert went 4-5 in 36 relief appearances over 50 2/3 innings. Darren O’Day and Frank Francisco combined to go 12-6 with two saves in 114 2/3 innings. Darren Oliver, at age 39, made 64 appearances and went 1-2 with one save and a 2.48 ERA. Rookie Alexi Ogando went 4-1 with a bullpen-low 1.30 ERA in 41 2/3 innings.
Feliz remained the closer and saved 32 games in 64 appearances. Ogando was moved to the rotation, leaving Darren Oliver, Mark Lowe, Yoshinori Tateyama and Arthur Rhodes to cover most of the innings. In the postseason Tateyama, Koji Uehara and Michael Gonzalez were barely used and, well, you don’t need a reminder for how that played out.
After deciding to turn Feliz into a starter, the club signed Joe Nathan to be its closer. Nathan held up his end of the bargain, compiling 37 saves in 66 appearances. Ogando, who returned from the rotation to the bullpen, appeared in 57 games and went 2-0 with three saves in 66 innings. Mike Adams pitched 52 1/3 innings of relief and Tanner Scheppers, Mark Lowe and Koji Uehara all made at least 36 relief appearances.
Joe Nathan returned and again gave the Rangers a reliable true closer, appearing in 67 games and compiling a 6-2 record with 43 saves. Tanner Scheppers came on the scene with an impressive 1.88 ERA over 76 2/3 innings, the bulk of the bullpen innings. Robbie Ross (65 games), Neal Cotts (58 games) and Jason Frasor (61 games) combined to go 16-8 out of the bullpen.
This is the season Rangers fans prefer to forget, especially when it comes to the bullpen. A team-record 32 players were used in relief, including position players Mitch Moreland, Chris Gimenez and J.P. Arencibia. Joakim Soria was the designated closer and had 17 saves before being traded to the Tigers in late July. By then Feliz had returned from injury and appeared in 30 games with 13 saves the final half of the season. Shawn Tolleson appeared had a 2.76 ERA over 64 games in his first season with the Rangers. Neal Cotts (73 games, two saves) and Jason Frasor (38 games) were dependable arms before being traded to the Royals (Frasor) and being waived (Cotts) later that summer. Alexi Ogando, who appeared in 27 games with one save, wasn’t tendered a contract.
After blowing three leads (including one blown save) in the first month and a half, the Feliz era was officially over. The Rangers designated him for assignment, and he joined the Tigers, with whom he blew four more leads the rest of the season. Feliz’s departure temporarily left a void in the ’pen that culminated in May when first-year manager Jeff Banister declared there were no set roles in the bullpen. Soon enough, however, Shawn Tolleson emerged as the closer. He saved his first-career game May 20 in Boston and converted his first eight chances. He finished the season with 35 saves and just two blown saves. He had help, of course, including rookie fireballer Keone Kela, who had a 2.39 ERA in 68 appearances. A revolving door of arms helped out before Dyson and Diekman joined the party, including Anthony Bass, Tanner Scheppers, Sam Freeman and Ross Ohlendorf.