Rangers closer Jose Leclerc is suffering from elbow soreness that will cause the righty to miss “extended time,” according to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News (Twitter link) and multiple reporters. Leclerc has already left the Rangers’ Spring Training camp and headed to Texas for further examination. In more unfortunate injury news, southpaws Joely Rodriguez and Brett Martin will also begin the season on the injured list, though their absences aren’t expected to last as long.
With Jonathan Hernandez already out through at least the first part of April due to a UCL sprain, Leclerc’s injury represents another long-term hit to the Texas bullpen. Any mention of an elbow problem naturally raises the concern of Tommy John surgery, which would keep the 27-year-old Leclerc out of action until midway through the 2022 season.
This is the second significant injury in as many years for Leclerc, who pitched in only two games last season due to a tear of his right teres muscle. His return to action was marked by a late arrival at camp due to visa issues, and then Leclerc didn’t have his usual velocity over 3 2/3 Cactus League outings, which perhaps isn’t unexpected as he was rebuilding his arm strength.
Despite it all, Leclerc was the provisional favorite to enter the season as the Texas closer. He was first promoted to the job back in 2018, during a season that saw Leclerc post a 1.56 ERA/2.60 SIERA and a whopping 38.1K% (eighth-highest of any pitcher in baseball with at least 50 IP) over 57 2/3 frames out of the Rangers’ bullpen. His performance took a step back in 2019, due in part to both an increase in walks and a big decrease in batted-ball luck (a .306 BABIP in 2019, as opposed to a .211 BABIP in 2018), but it should be noted that most of Leclerc’s struggles that year were contained to the month of April.
Prior to that 2019 season, Leclerc signed a contract extension that paid him a guaranteed $14.75MM through the 2022 season, with the Rangers holding club options on his services for both 2023 ($6MM, $750K buyout) and 2024 ($6.25MM, $500K buyout). While not a huge financial investment, this extension will end up looking like something of a bust for Texas should the worst come to pass and Leclerc does require TJ surgery.
Rodriguez (sprained ankle) and Martin (back) haven’t yet pitched during Spring Training, but both left-handers could end up spending a relatively short time on the IL, perhaps even just a minimal 10-day absence. Their returns will be greatly welcomed by a Rangers bullpen that is now suddenly thin on arms. It remains to be seen who will be the first choice for save with both Leclerc and Hernandez out, and the role could fall to minor league signings Ian Kennedy or Matt Bush.