via Texas Rangers
ARLINGTON — One guy may be the Opening Day starter next year, and the other could be the Rangers’ closer.
That may seem to be a premature observation in early August, but left-handed starter Mike Minor and right-handed reliever Jose Leclerc are certainly prominent in Texas’ plans for next year.
That’s why nights like Saturday at Globe Life Park are encouraging for the Rangers, as Minor and Leclerc helped pitch them to a 3-1 victory over the Orioles. Setup reliever Cory Gearrin chipped in with a scoreless inning and home runs from Joey Gallo and Rougned Odor helped the Rangers win for the seventh time in the past eight games.
Minor went seven innings, holding the Orioles to one run on four singles. He did not walk a batter and struck out six, raising his record to 8-6 with a 4.53 ERA. He wasn’t a big-name signing in the offseason, but the Rangers’ decision to pursue him as a starter appears to be an astute evaluation.
Among the prominent free agent starting pitchers available last winter, only Miles Mikolas (11), Jhoulys Chacin (10) and Jake Arrieta (9) have more wins. Minor is also getting better, going 4-2 with a 3.26 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP in his last 10 starts.
“The last couple of months, I have felt better,” Minor said. “Just want to keep attacking the zone and getting better with my pitches every [start].”
Minor did on Saturday night what the Rangers want from all their pitchers: He was quite efficient, throwing just 86 pitches in seven innings.
“First of all, he filled up the strike zone with all his pitches,” Texas manager Jeff Banister said. “Excellent mix, used his offspeed throughout, and the elevated fastball played well for him, allowed him to go down with the offspeed. The velocity stayed up, he used the offspeed early in the counts. But continued to work the strike zone and [was] able to get these guys in swing mode.”
Leclerc took over in the ninth to earn his first save of the season. It was the first ninth-inning save opportunity for a Rangers pitcher since Keone Kela was traded to the Pirates on Tuesday.
“I didn’t know,” Leclerc said. “They didn’t tell me anything. They didn’t tell me if it was going to be the eighth or ninth inning. I was just keeping up with the game.”
The Rangers want Leclerc to earn the role, just like Kela did. But the scoreless ninth left him with a 2.21 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP on the season. Opponents are hitting .153 off him, and he is averaging 12.61 strikeouts per nine innings.
“It’s going to be a learning process for Leclerc,” Banister said. “He’s got the stuff. What it feels like, that’s what these young guys go through in the back end. The heart rate has a chance to get elevated. How does he get through an inning when he gives up a hit, or a ball is not played behind him? How he continues to pitch in those situations. That’s when we’ll evaluate him. This kid has grit, no doubt about it.”