The fickle life of a relief pitcher.
One year you are an unstoppable force at the back end of the bullpen. The next year, you are the back end of a horse.
When Jose Leclerc took over the closer job after Keona Kela was dealt to Pittsburgh last season, he closed eighteen games for the Rangers. Flawlessly. Twelve saves. Zero blown saves. And, get this, zero earned runs. Zero. In eighteen save opportunities.
How dominating was Leclerc? In those eighteen games, covering eighteen innings, he allowed two hits. Walked just six. Struck out twenty-nine.
It would have been impossible to be better. Or, at least, superhuman.
He was so dominating in 2018, in fact, that the Rangers threw a six-year deal at him, four guaranteed, the last two club options.
Then something happened. The season ended. And a new one began. And the slate was wiped clean. Along, apparently, with Leclerc’s ability to close out games.
His first four appearances in 2019 were what was expected of him. Two saves, a win, no earned runs, one hit. Then the cosmic randomness of relief pitching materialized. Nine closing opportunities later, his ERA ballooned from 0.00 to 8.44. He lost games. He lost his closer’s job.
Yesterday was a reminder why.
Next year, though, he could very well channel Mariano Rivera again. That’s relief pitching. And that’s why it’s so hard to build a bullpen that’s sustainable from year to year.
Relief pitchers’ careers are as reliable as an unemployed brother-in-law crashing on your couch.
NO GAME TODAY.