Rangers have hope bullpen can finish strong

Rangers have hope bullpen can finish strong

SEATTLE -- Beginning Thursday, the Rangers have 11 games left to make a run at the American League Wild Card. The question is if they have enough bullpen left to get it done.

"I feel confident we do," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "I don't think we have any other choice. It's nothing different than what we have been dealing with all year."

Rangers relievers went into Thursday's game against the Mariners with a 6.87 ERA in September, the second-highest mark in the American League. With rosters expanded in September, the Rangers have 13 relievers available on a given night.

But Banister still has to juggle certain situations. He also knows he can't run Alex Claudio out there every night no matter how tempting it is.

"Somebody else has to get it done," Banister said.

Keone Kela is active but still dealing with a sore right shoulder. The cold weather on the West Coast hasn't helped and he has pitched just twice since being activated off the disabled list on Sept. 12.

"It's more of a game-time decision on how he feels and where he is at," Banister said.

Matt Bush has pitched five times since returning from the disabled list with a sprained right knee and has allowed four runs in 1 2/3 innings. He pitched on Wednesday night, faced two batters and allowed a pair of doubles before being pulled. It is possible the knee is still impacting him.

"I'm not going to say it ... he hasn't given us any indication," Banister said.

The Rangers are carefully monitoring Jake Diekman, who missed the first five months of the season while recovering from abdominal surgery, but has a 3.12 ERA for September. He and Tony Barnette, who has a 1.23 ERA for the month, have been the Rangers most reliable setup relievers lately.

Rookie right-handers Ricardo Rodriguez, Jose Leclerc and Nick Gardewine, and left-hander Yohander Mendez have had their hits and misses, which is to be expected from inexperienced, hard-throwing young pitchers.

Veteran reliever Jason Grilli has made just three appearances in September. A.J. Griffin, Paolo Espino and Austin Bibens-Dirkx are designated for long relief.

"Again, you would like to have everybody available in a winning formula," Banister said. "When we bring a pitcher in, we have confidence he'll get through what we need him to get through. But sometimes it gets sideways."

Claudio saved the Rangers first two wins in Seattle, pitching one inning on Tuesday and two on Wednesday. It's the first time a Rangers pitcher has picked up saves in back-to-back games while pitching at least three innings since Francisco Cordero in 2004. Claudio is the only Major League reliever to do it this season. His 76 innings pitched this season out of the bullpen are the third most in the American League.

"I like the challenge and the last part of the season is a big challenge," Claudio said. "I'm going to help the team any way I can."

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.