It was a move that needed to be made for more reasons than one.
The Texas Rangers bullpen struggled out of the gate this season. Much of that fell on closer Sam Dyson, who blew his third save of the young season in Sunday’s 8-7 loss in Seattle. Dyson is 0-3 in six relief appearances this season, allowing 13 runs in 4.1 innings. That needed to change and it did, just not the way many thought it would.
The official word is Dyson has now landed on the 10-day disabled list with a right hand contusion suffered when the righty tried to grab a grounder with his bare hand in that loss to the Mariners.
Could it be a legit injury? Possibly. Could it also be a way to let Dyson clear his head and put the disastrous start of the season behind him? That’s also likely.
Dyson saved 38 games last year, which has many wondering what happened. The velocity was still there with the fastball running into the mid-90’s and Dyson looked good in his appearances for Team USA during the World Baseball Classic, tossing six shutout innings.
However, once the season started, the sinker didn’t seem as crisp. The last thing you want as a sinker-ball pitcher is a flat sinker that stays in the zone. The ground ball rate goes down and chances increase in the baseball landing over 400 feet in the opposite direction from home plate. Release point could also be an issue. The bottom line is Dyson’s money pitch became very hittable.
Something else that started to become noticeable was seeing the confidence level drop in the recent blown save. Once the Mariners started to get that rally going, the look and body language coming from Dyson started saying “here we go again” and there was no sign that it was going to stop.
With Dyson now heading to the disabled list to recover both physically and possible mentally, who now takes over the closer role? In an interesting twist of fate, the Rangers recalled right-hander Keone Kela from Triple-A Round Rock. Kela was sent down two weeks ago after a reported disagreement with some of the veterans on the team over the perception concerning his effort. In his return to the majors, Kela had a 1-2-3 ninth in the 7-0 win over the Oakland A’s on Monday. He wasn’t expected to be back this soon but the Rangers also didn’t expect to be in this situation.
The closer role will likely go to another righty in Matt Bush on a permanent basis. Bush, coming back from a brief shoulder issue, threw a scoreless eighth inning while striking out the side on Sunday. Of course, many wondered why it was the eighth instead of the ninth. The answer was simple: Dyson had one more shot to get things right, which didn’t happen.
The flame-throwing duo of Kela and Bush will now be the late inning guys with the possibility of Kela working both the seventh and eighth inning and Bush taking over in the ninth. Those two can also be interchangeable depending on matchups and scouting reports. How the rest of the bullpen dominos fall in place remains to be seen, especially after Dyson returns.
The underlying issue is the fact that the bullpen changes have become a yearly occurrence. In the first 12 games this season, the pen had a 6.31 ERA and five blown saves as the Rangers got off to a 4-8 start while the in-state rival Houston Astros caught fire to take over first place and began creating some distance.
Whether the annual bullpen disaster buried the Rangers beyond recovery has yet to be determined. Texas had a slow in 2015 but did make a comeback to win the division. You can’t win a division in April, but you can possibly lose one by getting too far behind.