DALLAS — One out into the Texas Rangers’ 2021 campaign and Opening Day starter Kyle Gibson walked off the mound having given up five runs while sporting a gaudy 135.00 ERA. The bullpen fared no better in a slugfest of a game that saw the Rangers give up 14 runs on 15 hits with eight free passes tossed into the mix as well.
It was easy to assume after that showing that the Rangers’ pitching staff was going to be downright awful. Cut to less than three weeks later and that debacle of a debut makes what has happened since seem somewhat remarkable.
Since that introductory eyesore, Texas starting pitchers have a 2.74 ERA and, even when you include Gibson’s awful start, they still sport the league’s ninth best ERA at 3.28. When you combine the whole team – including the injury-riddled and very young bullpen – their ERA sits at 4.03 which is good enough for 8th in the American League and 15th in all of baseball.
Middle of the pack is certainly nothing to get too excited about but given the futile expectations for this staff coming into the season, it’s a development that almost no one saw coming and a welcome one for the stated rebuild effort.
There is no question that the entire Rangers staff has been throwing better, but there are a few pitchers that should have fans feeling better not only about this season but about the future as well. Here’s a look at a few staff standouts:
Dane Dunning – The 26-year-old who the Rangers acquired as the headlining prospect return in the Lance Lynn trade last December has been exceptional so far in 2021. Dunning is 1-0 with a microscopic 0.60 ERA this season in three starts.
Dunning is striking out more than a batter per inning with 16 strikeouts in 15 innings pitched and he has allowed just one run to cross the plate in 2021. Fans and Dunning himself may be frustrated with the limited innings and pitch counts to start the season, but there’s no doubt that the Rangers strategy with their new starter is paying off early and Dunning looks the part of a big piece for the future.
Kohei Arihara – The 28-year-old rookie from Japan is fitting right in with the Rangers in his first big league season. Arihara earned his first career MLB victory in the Rangers’ 5-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays this past Wednesday in what was the most complete performance of his young career.
Arihara pitched a season high 5 2/3 scoreless innings in his win and achieved a season-high five strikeouts while allowing a season-low three hits. Perhaps the most impressive thing for Arihara thus far is his aversion to free passes as the six-year NPB veteran has walked just one batter stateside in 2021.
For the year, Arihara has a solid 3.07 ERA and is showing signs that he can be the stable innings eater that the Rangers hoped for when they signed him this off-season.
Kyle Gibson – Yes the Kyle Gibson who once sported a 135.00 ERA this season has also been exceedingly good of late. Since his Opening Day meltdown, Gibson has gone 2-0 with an absurd 0.43 ERA over his last three starts spanning 21 innings. In case you were wondering, that’s beyond good.
There shouldn’t be any expectations that Gibson will continue this torrid pace of endless zeroes and, at 33 years old and on the second year of a third year deal, Gibson isn’t exactly the type of player that is expected to be here when the team is ready to turn things around in the standings.
However, what Gibson can give the Rangers is stability in their rotation and a veteran presence to set the tone as a leader on the staff. Gibson has the resume for that. In his eight big league seasons, Gibson has reached double digit wins in five of them and has the potential to give the team 180 solid innings.
If the Rangers get that from Gibson this season, they will almost undoubtedly consider it a success and Gibson’s leadership could be a boon down the road for a young staff.
Kolby Allard – Graduating from last man in the bullpen to Jordan Lyles’ new tandem partner, Allard is another very young Ranger that has had an eye-opening start to this year.
Allard, who was acquired from the Atlanta Braves at the trade deadline in 2019 is a young, electric left-hander who has plenty of potential. Since coming to Texas, Allard has made a handful of starts for the Rangers with mixed results, but he is still very young at 23 and comes with a former first round pick (14th overall, 2015) pedigree.
In 2021, Allard has done nothing but miss bats out of the bullpen. In his five innings pitched, Allard has nine strikeouts and has allowed just one earned run. More significantly, Allard has not walked a batter and has given up just two hits.
In his most recent outing, Allard was exceptional, throwing three perfect innings while striking out five.
It will be of interest to Rangers fans to see how Allard is used throughout the season and, if he does get some run as a starter, if he continues his early success or falls back into the patterns of inconsistency that he has struggled with so far in his young career.
The caveat remains that it is still early in the season and, as we have already seen with the hot start at the plate for the Rangers’ hitters, it is still possible for the success to dry up for the pitchers. However, there are signs of life with this Rangers pitching staff and whether it is fool’s gold or the real deal, Texas is keeping things interesting and that’s all we can ask for.
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