Leclerc delivers to boost beleaguered bullpen

Rangers' young reliever retires Trout, Pujols, closes out win

Leclerc delivers to boost beleaguered bullpen

ANAHEIM -- Rangers pitcher Jose Leclerc made one big mistake on Wednesday night. After he closed out the Rangers' 8-3 victory over the Angels, he forgot to keep the ball to commemorate his first Major League save.

"I didn't know about it," Leclerc said. "I threw the ball to the fans."

Somebody was able to retrieve it for him, giving Leclerc something tangible to remind him of the night he picked up the Rangers' struggling bullpen by retiring two of the most feared hitters in the American League.

It was a moment to remember, both for Leclerc and manager Jeff Banister as he searches for ways to fix the Rangers' late-inning issues.

"It was one of those moments that we watched him grow up before our very eyes," Banister said. "Just how he handled the situation, very calm on the mound, throwing strikes, trusting the catcher. He had to face the heart of their lineup."

He did. Lerclerc entered the game in the eighth with the Rangers leading, 6-3, with a runner on second base and one out. The next two hitters were Mike Trout and Albert Pujols.

Leclerc was pitching because Sam Dyson was unavailable, Matt Bush was back in Texas getting treatment for his shoulder, Jeremy Jeffress had already recorded four outs and Tony Barnette was being held for the ninth inning.

That left it all up to Leclerc with his 97 mph fastball and a swing-and-miss changeup.

"What I needed to do was throw strikes," Leclerc said. "Throw my changeup that cuts and my sinking fastball. I've never been in a save situation. I'm glad they gave me the chance."

Leclerc struck out Trout on three pitches: one fastball and two changeups. He got Pujols to swing at the first pitch and pop out to center field.

Four pitches, two outs, inning over.

This coming from a guy who has only been held back the last few years by his erratic command issues. That wasn't an issue on Wednesday night against the American League MVP and a future Hall of Famer.

"That's uncharted territory for the young guy," Banister said. "He was able to stay collected, throw strikes and trust his stuff. It shows poise for a young guy."

Banister was planning on sending Barnette to pitch the ninth with a three-run lead. But the Rangers scored two more in the top of the ninth, so Leclerc got to finish it off for the save.

"It seems like he's got a good live arm," said Angels outfielder Ben Revere, who grounded out in the ninth. "He seems like a good pitcher. We're definitely going to face these guys a lot as we go deeper into the season. We'll see how he is, but right now it seemed like he has pretty good stuff."

Banister is not afraid to use rookie pitchers in big situations. Two years ago, it was Keone Kela and last season it was Bush.

It may be Leclerc's time now.

"If our bullpen is clicking on all cylinders, I don't know if he is pitching in that situation," Banister said. "What I'm talking about is a young guy who was on the outside looking in during Spring Training. He's done a good job for us when we've been challenged in other spots."

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.