via Texas Rangers
ARLINGTON — The Rangers called up Ariel Jurado from Triple A Nashville on April 26 because their bullpen was in disarray. Jurado was supposed to be the Rangers’ first line of defense for the rotation as a starter, but they had a much greater need for him in the bullpen.
That has changed over the past six weeks, and the Rangers are much better on two fronts. The bullpen has been stabilized because of the excellent work lately from veterans Jesse Chavez, Chris Martin and Shawn Kelley, and that has allowed Jurado to reinforce the rotation.
The combination of those two were on display Thursday night in pitching the Rangers to a 4-3 victory over the Orioles at Globe Life Park. The Rangers have won 15 of their last 21 games with their next eight coming against the Athletics and the Red Sox.
With the Rangers four games over .500, they are right in the middle of the early American League Wild Card race with Oakland and Boston as the two teams in there with them. As of right now, the Rangers hold the second-best record in the Wild Card race.
“From here on out every game is going to matter,” Martin said. “That’s awesome. That’s what you want.”
Pitching has been a huge reason for the Rangers’ surge, and it has come from both sides. The starters are 9-4 with a 3.28 ERA in their last 21 games, while the bullpen is 6-2 with a 4.35 ERA.
“We’re all pitching well,” Chavez said. “Starters are putting us in good situations when we come into ballgames. They’re just coming into their own now, and we’re just feeding off of what the starters are doing, [so] we don’t give away what they’ve worked for.”
No longer needed in the bullpen, Jurado gave the Rangers six innings in Thursday’s start, allowing three runs on eight hits. He walked one and struck out six before leaving with 91 pitches. He is now 3-2 with a 2.78 ERA after four starts and nine relief appearances.
Chavez said Jurado’s early work as a reliever this season helped him when the Rangers finally moved him into the rotation.
“Me and him had a talk about, ‘You’re a starter, first and foremost,’” Chavez said. “‘We know that. Everybody knows that. But these situations that you’re coming into are going to help you when you’re a starter.’ Being a young kid and going into those sixth and seventh innings where he was throwing in, coming in and getting crucial outs, he knows how to pitch now, and how to revert to those situations where I don’t think that, last year, was the case.”
Jurado can let the back-end of the bullpen take over now. Chavez pitched the seventh and retired the side in order to extend his current scoreless streak to 20 2/3 innings. He has not allowed a run since April 30, when his ERA was 8.79. It is now down to 3.60 as he has retired 23 of his last 28 batters faced.
Martin struck out the side in the eighth and now has a 2.81 ERA along with a 1.00 WHIP in his last 15 games. Kelley closed it out in the ninth for his seventh save. He blew a save on Wednesday night, but he still has a 2.38 ERA on the season along with a 0.97 WHIP.
Kelley has been solid since Opening Day, and the rest of the bullpen is starting to catch up with him. That includes Jose Leclerc, who had the night off but has a 1.76 ERA in his last 13 games with 28 strikeouts in 15 1/3 innings.
“Those three guys, four guys down in the bullpen have really stabilized everything,” manager Chris Woodward said. “Especially when we’ve got a lead, they’ve basically maintained it for the last six weeks. It’s nice from a staff standpoint and a winning standpoint that we have all those pieces kind of in place that we can kind of project out how the game’s going to go. Jurado’s a big part of that because it solidifies our rotation also.”