Gil LeBreton

Rangers’ bullpen inferno finally under control

Rangers relief pitcher Matt Bush gave up his first major league run Tuesday, but he got out of the inning to set up a Rangers’ 4-1 victory over the Angles.
Rangers relief pitcher Matt Bush gave up his first major league run Tuesday, but he got out of the inning to set up a Rangers’ 4-1 victory over the Angles. mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

This alert just in from the Arlington Fire Department:

The dumpster fire has been extinguished. The frequent inferno that was the early-season Texas Rangers bullpen is under control.

For the last six days, at least.

“It’s taken us awhile to get to this point,” manager Jeff Banister admitted after Tuesday night’s 4-1 victory over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

“Adding Matt Bush to the mix obviously helps. And [Jake] Diekman and [Sam] Dyson have been doing what they’ve done all year long.”

The pitching story of the night Tuesday clearly was Martin Perez, who pitched six innings of shutout baseball and worked his way out of a bases-loaded jam like a veteran in the sixth inning.

But the home team’s lead was only 1-0 after that half-inning. And Rangers fans have been watching late-inning leads incinerate all season long.

Rangers starting pitchers began the night with an MLB-leading 31 quality starts and an earned run average of 3.37, lowest in the American League.

The bullpen has been a different story. The relievers’ combined ERA was 5.20, second-worst in the major leagues.

What was supposed to be a team strength has been the Rangers’ most telling disappointment. The bullpen has been tagged with 11 of the team’s 20 losses.

The head-to-head statistical comparison to the AL West-leading Seattle Mariners underlines the problem.

Mariners reliever Mike Montgomery has allowed opponents a .179 average and a .475 OPS. Nick Vincent (.164, .517), Vidal Nuno (.212, .583) and closer Steve Cishek (.183, .573) have been steady and dependable.

The Rangers’ bullpen numbers mostly reflect their inconsistency. Once-closer Shawn Tolleson has allowed a .343 average and a 1.015 OPS. Diekman (.183, .529) and Dyson (.233, .637) have done their jobs, but Tony Barnette (.304, .738) , Alex Claudio (.313, .789) and Tom Wilhelmsen (.379, 1.242) have struggled at times.

Swap the Seattle bullpen’s performances with the Rangers’, and Texas would be leading the division by at least five or six games.

Bush’s call-up from Double-A Frisco — eventually to fill injured Keone Kela’s set-up role — has helped to make the bullpen whole again.

Bush was finally touched for his first major league run Tuesday, but he was able to retire Albert Pujols and Johnny Giavotella in the eighth inning to hand the lead over to Dyson.

Over the past five games, Rangers relievers have pitched 11  1/3 innings and allowed only seven hits and two runs, while striking out 15.

Kole Calhoun lined a one-out single off Bush in the eighth, and then the Rangers reliever tried to slip a 99 mph fastball past Mike Trout on a 3-2 count. Trout doubled to right-center, setting up the Angels’ lone run.

Bush admitted that considering where he was a year ago at this time, a Florida correctional facility, it felt surreal to be standing on the mound staring in at Trout and Pujols.

“It definitely is,” Bush said. “But I want to get them out. I don’t like giving up hits, no matter who it is.

“I feel like I did my job, though, and that’s what I want to do — be ready when my name is called and throw strikes.”

The difference in just one week has been noticeable. The Rangers’ bullpen inferno has been doused.

For now, at least. And that’s a start.

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