On a day when the news wasn’t good on Matt Bush and the news wasn’t good on Adrian Beltre and the news wasn’t great on Tyson Ross and we were all still obsessing about the state of Sam Dyson, the Rangers improved to 2–0 when A.J. Griffin starts — they’re 1–5 otherwise — and got their first save of the season.
From Jose Leclerc.
You could have made some bank betting that Leclerc would be the first Rangers pitcher to earn a 2017 save, or that, after more than a week had elapsed, Elvis Andrus would have as many home runs as Texas had wins.
Leclerc belongs and Joey Gallo belongs (thankfully, given the ominous Beltre development that now apparently measures his timetable in weeks rather than days) and sometimes you win a game with one of the last starters you’re counting on and one of the last power sources you’re counting on and one of the last relievers you’re counting on, but in Leclerc’s case, as long as he’s mixing that nasty offspeed repertoire with 97 — and locating it (12 strikes out of 16 pitches), historically his biggest issue — he’s going to work his way into high-leverage responsibilities pretty quick here, partly out of necessity but more notably out of seized opportunity.
Leclerc is here right now only because Keone Kela is in AAA timeout, but as long as he keeps doing anything close to what we saw last night, they’re going to man the bullpen together once Kela is retrieved.
Jeff Banister said it twice after Texas 8, Los Angeles 3: Leclerc stayed calm, threw strikes, and utilized his stuff. It’s a combination that established veterans, as we know, are sometimes challenged to maintain.
On Wednesday night the pen, which was without Dyson last night and without Bush and without Kela and without Jake Diekman, held 11 Angels to two hits and no walks, and the club that won historically so many close games last season now, apparently, only wins them big (margins of 5, 7, and 5).
Texas won a league-high 95 games last year, and finished with a run differential of only +8.
Texas has a losing record at the moment (3–5), yet has a run differential of +4.
Due in part, last night, to an attack that featured Andrus as the one clearing the fence by a million feet and Gallo as the one motoring out a two-run triple and a pen performance starring Jose Ramon Leclerc, signed in 2010 out of the Dominican Republic for a meager $90,000, unflappably blowing one future Hall of Famer away on three nasty pitches (fastball, cut change, cut change) and getting another future Hall of Famer to pop out lazily to center on one 97-mph delivery in what was the biggest moment of his baseball life and, all things considered, among the bigger moments of this young Rangers season.
Tack on that Leclerc induced four swinging strikes in his 16 pitches — the same number Yu Darvish got from Cleveland in 98 Opening Day pitches and one less than Cole Hamels got from the Angels in 100 pitches two nights ago — and you’ve got yourself a new entry in Can’t Predict Ball.
I’m not going to sit and here and say Leclerc is going to be Neftali Feliz or even a closer for this team, but I still remember that late West Coast night in Oakland on August 3, 2009 when Feliz arrived, and though last night wasn’t Leclerc’s debut, it won’t surprise me at all if, seven or eight years from now, I still remember that late West Coast night in Anaheim when he overpowered Mike Trout and Albert Pujols in the biggest situation he’d ever been entrusted with, and the first time he’d seen them, or them him.
It was the ineradicable moment from a night on which none of the Rangers’ eight most important pitchers pitched, either because of usage pattern or injury or a disciplinary demotion. But pitching was the story of Texas 8, Los Angeles 3.
One walk issued all night, and first-pitch strikes to 22 of 35 Angels. Good counts are good.
Strike one is a beautiful thing, and makes it a whole lot less likely you get to ball four.
And a good bit more likely that you’re gonna be the ones lining up in the middle of the diamond as the umpires leave the field.