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By: Jared Sandler

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The Leadoff

Here’s the latest edition of “Just Hangin'” Rangers emerging left-handed reliever, Andrew Faulkner.

And here’s this week’s “Hello, Win Column!” Podcast with Mike Bacsik and me as we discuss Holland’s performance, Desmond in CF, Matt Bush’s timeline, lineup considerations, and more:

Quote of the Day

“It’s the best I’ve felt in five years.” -Rangers OF Josh Hamilton on his troublesome knee condition that’s kept him from game action this Spring and will likely do so at the Major League level until after April.

Covering the Bases

*Josh Hamilton is participating in some baseball activities as he continues to recover from a knee injury. The hopeful estimation of a May 1 return date at the Big League level hasn’t changed, but the likelihood that he meets that has increased with his recent progress. He hopes to face live pitching in some form around the time camp breaks, if not sooner.

*Jeff Banister acknowledged that “Shawn Tolleson will close for us,” but didn’t necessarily commit to him pitching every ninth inning save situation that exists when rested. The matchups and the situation will be considered, as they should be as far as I’m concerned. This idea that we worry about matchups in the 7th and 8th but then ignore them in the 9th for the closer is antiquated and I like that this particular manager is willing to buck tradition in this regard.

*According to Jon Heyman, the Rangers were one of many teams to attend Kyle Lohse’s showcase. At this point, Lohse, who went 5-13 with a 5.85 ERA in Milwaukee last year, is a back end of the rotation/swingman consideration for teams who have interest. Read: depth option.

*Delino DeShields did not play in either today merely as a precaution as he recovers from a minor bout with right biceps tendinitis. He continues to participate in baseball activities.

Game Notes RANGERS 12 Reds 5

On the Bump

*Chi Chi Gonzalez pitched five scoreless innings, walking three while striking out two, allowing just one hit. He threw 72 pitches and worked ahead of hitters almost all afternoon. His fastball reached 94 mph, which is a good sign considering the lack of velocity separation he’s experienced from his repertoire of pitches. Was it enough to vault him into the top spot for the 5th starter race? No. But it definitely help keeps him healthily in the conversation.

*Andrew Faulkner gave up his first run of camp in his second of two innings. He finished with three strikeouts and no walks, allowing two hits.

*Jake Diekman pitched a perfect inning. Since Faulkner’s now surrendered a run, Diekman might be the frontrunner for the coveted “Best Pitcher in Camp” award that doesn’t exist.

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*Sam Dyson was unable to get out of his lone inning of work. His sinker was sharp, but he was throwing a lot of off-speed stuff. His defense committed an error behind him, but Dyson also got hit hard a few times, too. Despite the error, all four runs were earned on two hits and a walk. He hasn’t lit up the Cactus League and has been hit somewhat hard so it is worth monitoring.

At the Dish

*Adrian Beltre blooped a doubled to right and then hit a no-doubt HR to left. Results don’t matter for a guy like him but it is still nice to see.

*Just Ruggiano banged his first home run of the Spring and then hit another later on, both against Reds SP, Anthony DeScalfani. Might be too little, too late for him, but he’s making a push. First base defense might be more of a priority for him than offensive production at this point as he needs to have that trick in his bag to justify a spot.

*Rangers prospect, Ronald Guzman, hit a massive HR to RF in the seventh inning. Wow.

Minor League Game 

*Keone Kela pitched a scoreless inning, striking out two and giving up just one hit. He pitched for High-A High Desert against the White Sox High-A affiliate, Winstom-Salem.

The Walkoff

Shawn Tolleson is the closer of the Texas Rangers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll pitch every save situation so long as he’s rested. Rangers manager Jeff Banister acknowledged that, “Shawn Tolleson is our closer,” but also acknowledged that individual games dictate different scenarios.

Read between the lines: Shawn Tolleson will start the season as the team’s primary closer, but, even when rested, he isn’t necessarily going to be pitching in the ninth inning of every save situation like most closers do. Jeff Banister and his staff will continually evaluate the situation and the matchups and make the best decision with the information they have on a regular basis.

I. Love. This.

It has never made sense to me that teams will play the matchups like crazy in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings, yet ignore the matchups in the ninth. They’ll go with the same damn guy everytime, even if all the data they use to examine matchups in the preceding innings advise against it.

If you’ve go Mariano Rivera or Trevor Hoffman then by all means, use them no matter what. No one hit those guys. But while the marquee closers get all the attention, they really are the exception. With all due respect to Shawn Tolleson, after one year of closing–and having a helluva season doing so–pardon me if I’m not ready to put him in that category.

Jeff Banister prides himself on embracing traditions but not always being traditional with his methods, constantly looking for ways to improve the way things are done. By constantly evaluating who is best to pitch the ninth inning for a given day, he’s doing just that–bucking the norm in search of a better way.

He’s able to do that because of the team’s great bullpen depth. Tolleson and Tom Wilhelmsen have all had success closing in the Majors and Tony Barnette twice led the Japanese league in saves. Keone Kela, Jake Diekman, and Sam Dyson have all demonstrated the dominance of a guy fit to close out a ballgame, too. Without that depth, it might be tougher to play the matchups, but that’s not the Rangers’ problem.

So who is this team’s closer? Shawn Tolleson.

Who is going to pitch the ninth inning on April 4th if the Rangers are leading in a save situation? Whoever gives them the best chance to get those final three outs.

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Why should it be any different?