Date: Monday, June 19th, 2017
Rangers’ Record: 34-34 (2nd place, 11.0 games behind Houston)
Tonight’s Opponent: Toronto Blue Jays (33-35)
Tonight’s Starters: Austin Bibens-Dirkx (2-0, 3.28) vs. Marco Estrada (4-5, 4.54)
Well, here we go again. The Rangers and Blue Jays. This has been an entertaining matchup for approximately one year and eight-and-a-half months. Remember pre-October 2015, when we all watched Pizza Rat doggedly haul a comically large piece of pizza down some steps? That’s what we did back in 2015. Pizza Rat, the blue-and-black-no-white-and-gold dress, and the absolute tail end of when anyone could get away with dabbing.
Anyway, since then, the Blue Jays have eliminated the Rangers in the ALDS (twice), there was that bat-flip, the fat lip, and a borderline riot on this very field. Sam Dyson speared Russell Martin in the middle of that, but Dyson is a San Francisco Giant now, since he was very bad as a member of the Rangers bullpen this year, and that is a convenient segue into today’s topic: Bullpen reinforcements are (maybe?) here!
(Also it appears Pizza Rat’s good fortune has taken a turn.)
It’s the June 19th Baseball Texas Daily!
1. Ernesto Frieri has changed my opinion of him, all in one conversation. Perhaps I’m easily swayed, but he was engaging, personable, happy to be in the big leagues again, and spoke at length with us about why he is hopeful that he can be an effective big-league pitcher again. I’ll let him speak for himself:
“Honestly, I always wanted to play for this team. It’s going to sound crazy. It was fun when I always came over here to face these guys, and I always enjoyed watching them having fun. It made me (think) like, ‘Man, I want to play for those guys one time, I want to play with these guys.’ And I’m finally here, so I’m just going to enjoy it.”
“I can tell you this. I feel better now than before. I feel that I’m a pitcher now. Three years ago when I was pitching at the big-league level, I was more like a thrower. I only threw fastballs, and I was getting away with it. I was getting lucky, if I’m honest to myself. But now, the last couple years, I lost my velo, so I have to use my secondary pitches. I have to use my changeup, my slider, and that helped me out by getting confidence in those pitches. Now I’ve seen that I can throw a changeup in any count to any righty or lefty. I can throw my slider too, and I think that makes me a better pitcher. My velo is coming back… last two years I’ve been 90 to 92, and this year I’ve been, like, 94 to 97, so it’s coming back. It’s coming back, and I’ve got good deception (...) I’m just happy, man, to be back.”
“What had really happened was that—I don’t want to blame anybody, because I’m a man and I follow orders—whenever all the people that helped me, sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. With me (...) it didn’t work. They were trying to help me out, like being a little bit quicker to home plate because with my delivery (I take a long time to deliver the ball because of my arm and upper body), but it played wrong and I lost a little bit of my deception. My ball didn’t move that much, and it was pretty much straight, so I started getting hit, getting hit. That was why, last year, I took it off, to start back at zero. I went back to Colombia, and I was working out with the guy who taught me how to play baseball, and I started from zero. So I start grabbing ground balls, fly balls from the outfield and just getting rid of the ball naturally, so I became natural again. Finally I’m getting close to my old delivery with my deception, and like I said before I’m way more comfortable with my secondary pitches.”
“I was talking to Andrus yesterday, and [he said] ‘Dude, you are much better now. Before, when you came here, we all knew the fastball was coming. You had a really good fastball, but we were ready for the fastball all the time. But now that I saw you (...) you came and mixed it up, throwing changeups, throwing sliders. That’s going to be tough, because your fastball is not easy to hit.’ So I’m really happy to hear that, especially from a guy that I’ve faced so many times. That tells me that what I’m doing is good.”
Did not expect to be fired up about Ernesto Frieri, you guys.
2. Tanner Scheppers is back in Arlington. Earlier today, Or Moyal and I mentioned in our weekly Facebook Live chat that Scheppers was someone that might be due for another shot at the big league level. Then about an hour and a half later, we had a roster move: A.J Griffin was moved to the 60-day DL to make room on the 40-man roster, and Jared Hoying was optioned to AAA to make room on the 25-man.
Scheppers, who had spent some time on the DL earlier this season with back spasms, also spoke to us about his return to the big leagues: “You learn a lot about yourself,” Scheppers said of the long and winding road through role-changes, injuries, demotions, DFAs, and options. “It’s definitely nice to be home.” I asked if he could tell us what he meant when he said he learned a lot about himself. “Patience and faith, really. Trust the process and believe every day and just want to be a better person.”
Personal growth and professional growth as parallels, huh? “Yeah, they’re definitely linked.”
Scheppers also says that he is completely healthy for the first time in a long time. Even better than last season when he returned to the Rangers late in the season? “I think so. Coming off a more serious knee surgery and still trying to find my feet. Now that I feel a little bit more comfortable with that I’m able to let things go a little bit more and I feel a little more comfortable with my body.”
It’s always a bit of wishing on a star when you try to project bullpens, but between Scheppers and Frieri, there is a lot of upside if both guys can return to their previous forms, when Scheppers was an All-Star finalist, and Frieri was the Angels’ closer.
3. Jeff Banister spoke about both guys this afternoon, as part of a larger conversation about his bullpen. Here are those quotes:
“We have four guys (Bush, Kela, Claudio and Leclerc) who we feel comfortable with that have who have been throwing the ball well in those winning situations in the sixth inning on. So we’d like to keep those guys, try to get them back to the point of being fresh and keep them fresh. We don't have a real long guy right now out there based on Austin having to start for us; it looks like Nick will start for us tomorrow. So to add the extra arm with Tanner, (who has) been going multiple innings. Ernesto can go multiple innings. Jeffress has been going multiple innings for us. So to kinda keep those guys in a situation where they're covering those early situations so we don't have to use one of the other four. And (it gives us) the ability to keep Alvarez as that left-hand specialist."
“(Claudio) has grown into a spot in that bullpen where he's truly a winning pitcher in that bullpen. A guy that you trust right, left, multiple outs. I think he's done everything you can possibly do in a bullpen this year. I think he's done everything you can possibly do as a pitcher. He's started, thrown long, thrown multiple, he's closed, he's set up, he's bridged. But yeah, just continues to get better every time he goes out there. I think the biggest thing for him is just the ability to throw all his pitches for strikes. Hitters don't see him well at all. He's got action on all of his pitches. Can put a hitter in that rocking chair where he's velo-soft type situation. He's done very well, throwing the ball extremely well."
Banister also reminded us that he was in Pittsburgh when the Pirates traded for Frieri.
“Yeah we had (Frieri) in Pittsburgh. We traded Jason Grilli, as a matter of fact, for Ernesto Frieri in a closer swap (...) We brought him in. They met each other in the airport. Seriously, as they were walking through the airport. Only in baseball.” (This is true, here’s the story.)
As for Frieri’s ability to pitch now, Banister had this to say:
“I don't think the velo on the fastball is as high as (it was) in the Angel days. He ranged from I think 97-98 mile per hour, I think somewhere in that range... He's not there now but the movement on the fastball's still there. I think the trust of the breaking ball is a little higher. Probably a little more usage in that department (...) Good guy. He's eager. I know he wants to do well, obviously. When we had him in Pittsburgh he was always upbeat, (would) take the ball any time. I look forward to getting him out there and letting him have some success."
And lastly, Banister spoke a little about Scheppers:
"All reports are that the fastball command is there. The secondary stuff has had some swing and miss to it. Everything's been really positive on what Tanner's been doing down there."
4. Austin Bibens-Dirkx is tonight’s starter. Here’s a brief video of the man himself talking about what he has learned in his time in the big leagues:
Alright! That’s it! You’re caught up on the bullpen and pizza rat. What else could you ask for? Oh right, a music recommendation. Well, today’s is a good one...
Jason Isbell has a new record, this one officially with “...and the 400 Unit”, as opposed to his solo records. This one is called “The Nashville Sound” which is ironic, because when you think Nashville, you probably think of crappy bro-country, and this is not that. But Isbell isn’t wrong: I lived in Nashville for seven years, and there’s a lot of really great singer-songwriter / alt-country music. And when he howls “Maybe the Cumberland Gap just swallows you whole,” he’s right about that, too.
(Spotify, Apple Music, Website)
During the regular season, these recommendations occasionally come from Rangers players, broadcasters, or other people around the team (here’s a complete list). If there’s a player or person you’d like Levi to ask for a music recommendation, shoot him an e-mail email@example.com or a tweet here.
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