Gil LeBreton

Retooled bullpen has stood out for Rangers

Keone Kela appears to be the sleeper from spring training for the Rangers’ bullpen.
Keone Kela appears to be the sleeper from spring training for the Rangers’ bullpen. Fort Worth Star-Telegram

The positive glimmer Sunday for the Texas Rangers:

Three-plus innings of one-hit relief pitching.

Beyond that, the Rangers’ lost weekend continued. Two more three-run bombs raised the weekend total of homers allowed to 16, and the 8-0 loss to Seattle hiked the club’s earned run average in the last six games to 8.66.

The guy that was acquired to stabilize the Rangers’ starting rotation now has a spring training ERA of 11.32.

True, that constitutes a small, but potentially hazardous sample size. Nevertheless, there is this:

The regular season begins exactly two weeks from Monday.

At least the objects in the bullpen mirror are becoming clearer.

Manager Jeff Banister has seen enough of Neftali Feliz, Tanner Scheppers and Shawn Tolleson to think the back end of the relief corps will be in capable hands.

He didn’t elaborate on the front half of the bullpen, where there are still decisions to be made, but there was no sign of concern in Banister’s voice as he talked before Sunday’s game about the relievers.

Because it appeared to be the last thing on general manager Jon Daniels’ off-season grocery list, the bullpen puzzle seemed to be getting pieced together almost as an afterthought.

Gone, after all, are Joakim Soria, Neal Cotts, Jason Frasor and Robbie Ross from last season’s bullpen.

This winter, as late as Feb. 14, the Rangers were still adding the likes of Jamey Wright to the list of bullpen candidates. Wright is 40 years old and has pitched for 10 different teams.

Fortunately for Daniels, Wright looks like a long shot at this point. Another veteran arm, lefty Joe Beimel — soon to be 38 and with his eighth team — also has struggled.

But Banister was actually grinning Sunday as he listed what he’s liked from young Phil Klein, Alex Claudio and the sleeper of the bullpen bunch, Keone Kela, who turns 22 next month.

“Klein has really shown well — seeing the swing-and-miss from the fastball,” Banister said.

“Claudio has shown up well and done things. He’s shown essentially what I’d heard when I got the initial evaluation on him.”

Banister seemed to be trying Sunday to tap the brakes on the Kela bandwagon, but the fine print showed that the hard-throwing right-hander was scheduled to pitch in both Sunday’s and Monday night’s exhibition games.

That means he will pitch in three of the team’s four games.

They wouldn’t be throwing him into the deep end of the pool without purpose.

“He’s a young kid that we still need to watch this spring,” Banister said. “Keone is one of those guys who still needs to continue to progress and move forward. How does he continue to show up?

“This is a guy that still doesn’t have a wealth of experience. Let’s continue to watch him. But I love everything about him.”

The coaching staff would like to see how Kela does in “traffic” (Banister’s word) situations, but he won’t cooperate. His perfect inning of relief Sunday meant he has faced 18 batters this spring, walked no one and allowed only two hits.

That’s not much traffic.

Add Roman Mendez and Ross Ohlendorf, and from that group of eight will likely come the Rangers’ seven-man bullpen to start the season.

Not a bad group, for being the roster’s afterthought.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gilebreton

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