For Texas Rangers, Relief Adjustments Key to Summer Success

Ian KwasowskiContributor IMay 9, 2009

SURPRISE, AZ - MARCH 04:  Relief pitcher Derek Holland #67 of the Texas Rangers pitches against the Kansas City Royals during the spring training game at Surprise Stadium on March 4, 2009 in Surprise, Arizona. The Rangers defeated the Royals 5-3.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Pitching's been an annual problem for the Rangers, a traditional weakness of sorts to complement the powerful batters the team often fields. The 2008 pitching staff featured 15 trips to the disabled list and a closer that saved 24 games with bone spurs in his arm.

The same staff has been healthier in the early going this year, but the relievers spoiled some games early. Maintenance to the Texas bullpen has yielded serious results so far, as the front office has proved it will make changes when needed.

After three solid outings from the rotation in the opening series sweep of the Indians, the Texas bullpen folded like paper in Detroit despite early leads in two of three games. The reaction to this and several poor performances that followed was to option reliever Warner Madrigal to AAA and call up highly-touted lefty Derek Holland.

Though many questioned the timing, Holland's arm has quieted criticism for the front office and proved he can hold his own in the bigs.

Twice brought in with the bases loaded, the 23 year-old rookie isn't being held back by manager Ron Washington in pressure situations and is widely expected to fill a spot in the starting rotation sometime this season.

Coincidentally, the Rangers saw fit to debut two additions to their bullpen in the same night in Toronto, bringing in the former Met Darren O'Day. His sidearm delivery allows Texas to give opposing batters something different to contend with, especially right-handers, who traditionally struggle against RHP with similar form.

Also joining the bullpen as of late is former starter Kris Benson who struggled in the early going this season until a vacation to the 15-Day DL promoted a starter from 2008, Scott Feldman, to the rotation.

Benson's pitching this season for the first time in two years due to elbow surgery and it's looking like a long road back. His presence in the 'pen should not be underestimated, as he'll be able to go for longer relief if needed, much like teammate Jason Jennings. Meanwhile, Feldman has won both his starts and will remain a starter for the time being.

Barring any freak injury or crash-and-burn relief by anyone else, expect veteran Eddie Guardado to be the next departure. "Everyday Eddie" is getting up there in age and is 0-1 in 11 appearances with a lofty ERA of 8.53.

Unless he turns it around soon, the career reliever is going to find himself replaced by the likes of Neftali Feliz, who's hanging around in AAA with a bright future reportedly in store.

If anything, Guardado's ejection from his last outing shows he's well aware that his career's at an end and nobody's sure how much that frustration may affect him from here on out.

In a live chat on this week, Jon Daniels confirmed his intentions to continue maintaining the bullpen, noting that it's often the fastest—and cheapest—way to improve the team.

The Rangers can't afford anything less than a constant eye on relief performance if they wish to remain in first place and compete with the other young arms in the A.L. West.

With brilliant performances from the starters this season, expect the club's management follow through and to do what it takes to preserve wins for its aces...without needing eight runs every game.