Rangers manager Chris Woodward announced today that he expects to remove righty Jose Leclerc from the team’s closer role, as Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News was among those to report. He’ll instead be utilized in low-leverage spots for the time being.
Leclerc, 25, has reverted to his command-challenged ways after a breakout 2018 season. He’s carrying an ugly 8.44 ERA with 11.8 /9 and 7.6 BB/9 over 10 2/3 innings. Leclerc has also been tagged for a whopping 53.3% hard contact, surrendering a pair of long balls among 14 base hits.
The worries run deep for the youthful reliever. Though he’s throwing harder than ever, and getting first strikes at a personal-best 62.5%, opponents seem to have figured something out. Leclerc is getting chases on just 21.2% of the pitches he throws out of the zone and giving up much more contact on those pitches than he has previously. He sits on an 8.2% swinging-strike rate — less than half the level he carried last year.
Fortunately for Leclerc, he inked an extension before the start of the season. Saves are a key statistic for arbitration-eligible pitchers, so even a temporary removal from the ninth inning would have impacted his bottom line.
The decision is disappointing for the Texas organization for the same reason. Paying up for Leclerc was all about locking in cost savings on a pitcher who was supposed to secure wins for the club for years to come. Instead, veterans Shawn Kelley and Chris Martin will get the late-inning chances while the team tries to help Leclerc rediscover his form.