Before the season, a common question hit a lot of folks around the Rangers. How will the tandem roles work? A quarter into the season, shuffling occurred and the tandem experiment is, put on hold, at least for now. To start, Wes Benjamin and Taylor Hearn piggybacked Jordan Lyles and Dane Dunning. Then Lyles began to pitch well, limiting Benjamin’s time and ultimately sending him to AAA with Wes’ struggles. Kolby Allard eventually took that role afterward. While Hearn followed Dunning on several outings, the Rangers lately used Hearn as a straight multi-inning reliever on any given night. “[The tandem experiment] played out exactly the way I anticipated it,” Chris Woodward told me before Thursday’s game.
It’s difficult to dissect if the tandem role worked because both starters (Dunning and Lyles) have piggybacked for different reasons. In Dane Dunning’s case, it’s to protect him from a healthy perspective and ease him into a full-time starter. For Jordan Lyles, there’s no inning restriction, but history dictates that Lyles has struggled when facing a lineup multiple times. Thursday’s start for Dunning proved what the organization is trying to do in handling Dane, and while there was no tandem that specific day, the overall goal is in place. That said, despite wanting to pitch longer, Dane understands the process and the long-term goal. “It’s got to the point where I respect [the Rangers] decision and respect what they do,” Dunning told me after Thursday’s game. “I know it’s for the long run in my career what they are doing.”
P Dane Dunning meets with the media following his strong performance in the @Rangers 2-0 loss to the Yankees. #StraightUpTX pic.twitter.com/fZ0gLjbDBg
— Bally Sports Southwest (@BallySportsSW) May 20, 2021
On Thursday, Chris Woodward lifted Dane for John King after six innings and seventy-nine pitches. While the talk of the town was the “quick hook” of Dunning, Woodward said after the game, Dane did his job. “It was one of those things if we sent him back out, and we get him right away if something happens. Why do that?” Chris said after the game. “He shook my hand, and I accepted it,” Dane told me after the game when I asked if he wanted to go out for the seventh. “I want to go out for the seventh inning, but I completely understand what they are doing.”
Sunday’s finale against the Astros ends a stretch where the Rangers play thirty games in thirty-one days. Right now, Texas leads major league baseball in games played. Therefore, shuffling had to occur to preserve the bullpen, and Chris Woodward treated tandem days as regular starts. However, the tandem experiment is still going on. “We’re going to have to go back to it at some point, especially with Dunning,” Woodard said to me Thursday. Throughout the next seven weeks, the Rangers will have eight off days. The placement in the schedule allows the Rangers to mix around what they want to do regarding their pitching rotation. “It’s going to reemerge,” Woodward told me. Look for guys like Kolby Allard, Taylor Hearn, and/or Hyeon-Jong Yang (depending on Kohei Arihara’s future status).
Solid outing, @Ddunning33. pic.twitter.com/ldW9VTPyUC
— Texas Rangers (@Rangers) May 20, 2021
In the Rangers forty-three games in a forty-five-day stretch, it’s also been about high leverage pitching. Thirty-eight of the forty-three games were decided by five runs or less (three games still to go). Additionally, thirty games in that stretch were three-run games or fewer, THIRTY games. Now it’s a concentration on the Houston Astros and how the club and the fan base fares with the in-state rivals in town.
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