Can the Texas bullpen hold up?

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Going into Wednesday’s games, 10 American League relievers had made at least 22 appearances. Five of them happen to pitch for the same team:
1. Will Ohman (Orioles) – 25
2. Daniel Bard (Red Sox) – 24
2. Neftali Feliz (Rangers) – 24
2. Chris Ray (Rangers) – 24
5. Scott Downs (Blue Jays) – 23
6. Randy Choate (Rays) – 22
6. Phil Coke (Tigers) – 22
6. Frank Francisco (Rangers) – 22
6. Darren O’Day (Rangers) – 22
6. Darren Oliver (Rangers) – 22
With 46 games in the books, five Rangers relievers are on pace to appear in about 80 games. A sixth, Dustin Nippert, has appeared in 19 games and thrown 24 2/3 innings, so while he hasn’t been as used as often, he’s on pace to throw 87 innings in relief.
Breakdowns are almost certainly on the way. Feliz, who was handled so carefully after being moved to the pen last year, is on 86-inning pace. Francisco has a history of arm problems and has never thrown more than 63 1/3 innings as a major leaguer. He’s on pace for 73 right now.
Ray, in his second year back from Tommy John surgery, hasn’t put in a full season since 2006. O’Day was given up on by the Angels two years ago because of a shoulder injury.
Oliver has a track record of durability, but his current 83-inning pace would be a new career high for him as a reliever. He threw 72 and 73 innings in his last two years with the Angels. The appearances might be more of an issue here than the innings. The Angels tended to give him longer appearances than the Rangers have. He appeared in 54 games in 2008 and 63 last year. Right now, he’s on pace for 77 appearances.
The Rangers do have fallbacks on the way. Matt Harrison, who opened the year in the rotation, is going to try his hand at relieving after returning from a case of biceps tendinitis. And top prospect Tanner Scheppers could be this year’s Feliz if he’s needed in a setup role later this year.
Still, manager Ron Washington is walking a dangerous path. In doing so much mixing and matching of O’Day, Ray and Oliver based on matchups, he’s given them workloads they’re simply not accustomed to. If he’s going to keep those guys healthy, he’ll have to start winning some games while using only two or three of his best relievers, rather than four or five.

Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

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Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.