Leclerc shows electric stuff in first Majors stint

Impressive reliever sent to Triple-A Round Rock to make room for Darvish

Leclerc shows electric stuff in first Majors stint

CHICAGO -- The Rangers optioned reliever Jose Leclerc to Triple-A Round Rock on Saturday to make room for Yu Darvish. But the rookie right-hander made a strong impression in his first time in the Major Leagues.

Texas has another budding power reliever if Leclerc can harness his fastball command.

"I like everything I saw," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "The combination of a 95-97 [mph] fastball, two different changeups and the breaking ball. He's got to get better at fastball command.

"Some of these young pitchers, you see where their fastball command is and where it needs to be. They've got to get better at that. I love that his stuff got him out of some innings, but you can't be just a stuff guy. You've got to be able to command the fastball."

Leclerc pitched in three games over 5 2/3 innings. He allowed two runs (one earned) on four hits, but he also walked eight while striking out five.

Banister said fastball command is what has allowed rookie right-hander Matt Bush to thrive in the big leagues, despite a four-year absence from the game. Bush throws his fastball in the strike zone 53 percent of the time. Leclerc did it 41 percent of the time.

"Bush is a strike thrower," Banister said. "When you throw strikes with your fastball, the offspeed stuff plays up. Command is putting it where you want it when you want it. That's the difference for every pitcher that goes out there. That should be their priority, throwing the fastball for strikes."

Pedro Strop had the same problem when he pitched for the Rangers in parts of three seasons in 2009-11. He appeared in 33 games and 27 1/3 innings, allowing 30 hits, 22 walks and 22 runs, while striking out 29.

Texas traded him to Baltimore on Sept. 1, 2011, to complete a deal for veteran left-handed reliever Mike Gonzalez. That was another deal the Rangers made to enhance their postseason chances.

The Cubs traded for Strop on July 2, 2013, and he has become one of the best setup relievers in the National League. In 217 games out of Chicago's bullpen, Strop has a 2.72 ERA, a 0.99 WHIP and 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings.

Leclerc, 22, has pitched in 22 games combined for Round Rock and Double-A Frisco this season, recording 5.5 hits, 4.7 walks and 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings.

"I think he's got a chance to be real good," Banister said.

Lohse ready to go

Kyle Lohse threw a bullpen session on Saturday without any issues, and he appears ready to start against the Angels on Tuesday. Lohse has been dealing with a strained right oblique muscle that occurred in his first start for the Rangers last Saturday against the Twins.

Lohse's first strikeout of 2016

Lohse has been able to play catch without any problems, but the club wanted to see him throw off the mound in the bullpen. The Rangers will wait and see how he recovers on Sunday before making a final decision on Tuesday.

Texas has Chi Chi Gonzalez and Nick Martinez ready at Triple-A if needed. Gonzalez threw just one inning on Thursday for Round Rock, and Martinez went just two innings on Friday.

"We are keeping both of those guys [back] in case we need them," Banister said.

Rangers beat

Shin-Soo Choo was out of the lineup on Saturday for the second straight game with tightness in his lower back. Banister said Choo is improving, but he remains day to day.

• Reliever Jake Diekman said the cut on his left index finger is closed and healing daily. Diekman is playing catch, but he has not thrown off the mound yet. He is eligible to come off the disabled list on Friday, and his goal right now is not to rip it open again.

Mitch Moreland made his first start of the season at the cleanup spot on Saturday. The Rangers have used six different players at the No. 4 spot, and their combined .422 slugging percentage was the third lowest in the American League going into Saturday's game.

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for since 2006. 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.