All season, the Texas Rangers' bullpen has been an extreme asset for the club.
The team is taking every precaution to insure that advantage exists deep into the playoffs.
By adding pitchers, giving others extended rest and by being judicious with everybody's usage, the Rangers enter their series with the Cleveland Indians on Friday with just 105 relief innings since the All-Star break. It is the second-lowest figure in the majors behind the Seattle Mariners, who have used relievers for 104 1/3 innings.
The Rangers' bullpen threw 251 innings in the first half, a middle-of-the pack number. The lighter load in the second half could be significant entering the playoffs. A year ago, Texas relievers pitched 198 2/3 innings in the second half. Manager Ron Washington said that was too much work, and it caught up to the bullpen during a full month's worth of playoff action.
"My bullpen ran out of gas," Washington said.
The fumes on which the bullpen was running last fall became painfully evident in the final games of the World Series. Rangers relievers went 4-0 with four saves in five chances and a 2.34 ERA in the first two rounds of the postseason. In the World Series, though, the bullpen had a 7.43 ERA with two saves in five chances.
In recent weeks, the Rangers have gone to lengths to be sure that relievers are as rested as possible.
Joe Nathan was given a cortisone injection in late July and then five days off. The club took a very conservative route with Koji Uehara, who missed 10 weeks with a lat muscle strain. And since Aug. 10, the Rangers have carried an eighth reliever to spread the load even more. On Saturday, the Rangers will be able to add more relievers to the 'pen as rosters can be expanded to 40.
"The first half of the season, we relied on them heavily," Washington said of the relievers. "Now, they've been getting a lot of rest, which hopefully is going to work in our favor."