Leclerc in disbelief after earning roster spot

Leclerc in disbelief after earning roster spot

ARLINGTON -- Rangers rookie right-hander Jose Leclerc was almost stunned to make the Opening Day roster.

"I worked for this, but I can't believe it," Leclerc said. "They have a lot of good pitchers here. I didn't think I had a chance."

Leclerc's disbelief is understandable. The makeup of the Rangers bullpen is different than expected after the events of the final week of Spring Training when veteran right-handers Keone Kela and Tanner Scheppers didn't make the team.

Kela was optioned to Triple-A and Scheppers was placed on the disabled list because of an abdominal strain. That left openings for Leclerc and Rule 5 right-hander Mike Hauschild. The Rangers also decided to go with eight relievers, putting left-hander Dario Alvarez on the roster. This will be the first Opening Day for all three as well as fellow relievers Matt Bush and Alex Claudio.

"I feel good about our bullpen," manager Jeff Banister said. "Not having Keone out there, his stuff rates among some of the best in the league. But Leclerc, his stuff is pretty dynamic, too."

Leclerc has averaged 9.8 strikeouts and 7.0 hits per nine innings over six Minor League seasons. He also walked 5.0 batters per nine innings, which has always held him back. Cutting that down was the focus in Spring Training.

"Being more in control," Leclerc said. "Not try to overthrow. Before I would always try to do more and more, and I was missing with a lot of pitches."

Alvarez has averaged 12.5 strikeouts per nine innings in 36 Major League appearances but also 10.5 hits. The Rangers worked on his delivery in Spring Training, trying to get his arm slot higher and more of a downhill angle. He finished the spring with a 0.79 ERA and a .195 opponents batting average.

"Everything started to feel better as the spring went on," Alvarez said.

Hauschild does not have the overpowering stuff of Alvarez and Leclerc. He throws strikes, gets ground balls and does not get rattled. He did not allow a run in 10 2/3 over five Cactus League relief appearances and it was clear in the final weeks of Spring Training the Rangers weren't letting him go back to the Astros.

He is the only reliever who has yet to pitch in the big leagues.

"I keep telling people it hasn't set in yet," Hauschild said. "It won't until I get out there. But if I start thinking about that too much, you get away from what got you here. I don't want to make it more than it is."

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