Healthy Scheppers on 'mission' to prove value

Healthy Scheppers on 'mission' to prove value

ARLINGTON -- Reliever Tanner Scheppers is still alive and with the Rangers. He is not retired, he has not been cut and he has not been traded.

Scheppers may be the forgotten man in the Rangers' overstocked bullpen, but the right-hander -- one of Texas' Opening Day relievers from 2014 -- is still on the 40-man roster.

"Yeah, people don't think I play baseball anymore," Scheppers said.

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But appearing at a Rangers Winter Caravan stop on Friday night in Frisco, Texas, Scheppers confirmed that's not the case.

"I do, I do," Scheppers said. "I'm very excited, too."

So how is the health?

"Health is good, I feel good," Scheppers said. "My mission in life is good."

So what is the mission?

"I'd rather be pretty silent about my mission," Scheppers said. "Let my work on the field speak for itself. I don't want to be one of these guys going into every year saying, 'Oh, I feel the best I have ever felt.' I can sit there and toot that horn all day. But at the end of the day, I just want to go out and play."

The mission should be simple: Scheppers needs to come to Spring Training, show that he is healthy and can still be the formidable reliever that he was in 2013. If he does that, he should still be able to win a job in the bullpen despite all the moves made this offseason.

"We have plenty of talented guys and have a lot of competition," Scheppers said. "I think in every spring, every team has that. It's something I'm looking forward to. I'm looking forward to a new beginning."

Scheppers was at his best in 2013, when he went 6-2 with a 1.88 ERA, a 1.07 WHIP and a .214 opponents' batting average over 76 appearances. The 1.88 ERA was the seventh lowest among qualifying relievers in the American League.

But it all fell apart in 2014 after Scheppers' misbegotten move to the rotation. He made just four starts before being shut down with elbow inflammation, and he spent most of the remainder of the season on the disabled list.

Scheppers was back in the bullpen in 2015 and on the Opening Day roster, but he was demoted to Triple-A Round Rock at the end of April with an 11.25 ERA. He returned on May 17 and had stretches where he pitched well, evidenced by a 1.54 ERA in 12 games from June 17 to the All-Star break. But Scheppers was increasingly bothered by a bone bruise in his left knee, went on the disabled list at the beginning of August and then made just four appearances in September. His final ERA was 5.63, and he was not on the postseason roster.

"From every experience you go through, you want to learn something from it," Scheppers said. "I definitely broke down the year, analyzed everything I possibly could in order to make myself better. From there, I just want to improve … take that as an experience and go from there."

Scheppers chuckled when asked what the No. 1 lesson was from 2015.

"I think I learned how to pitch without my best stuff," Scheppers said.

The Rangers could have cut Scheppers loose earlier in the offseason. He is eligible for salary arbitration for the first time in his career and was considered a candidate to be non-tendered. That would have made Scheppers a free agent. But the Rangers tendered him a contract even though he might have a tough time winning a spot in the bullpen.

"A lot of guys who go through the [non-tender] process, sometimes starting somewhere new benefits them," Scheppers said. "But I really like this organization, nothing but happy with all the opportunities that I've been given. Now I want to be here. I'm very thankful for the opportunity."

That's quite a diplomatic statement, but it might be safe to safe to say that Scheppers has something to prove this Spring Training.

"Yeah, that's pretty safe," Scheppers said.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.