SURPRISE, Ariz. — The Texas Rangers have another potential long-term elbow issue with a late-inning reliever they hoped to count on in a rebuilding season.
One-time closer Jose Leclerc has returned to Texas because of right elbow soreness, a setback that comes about two weeks after fellow right-handerc was diagnosed with a sprained elbow ligament.
The Rangers have already indicated they plan to start the season with Hernandez on the 60-day injured list.
General manager Chris Young said Monday the club won’t know how long Leclerc will be out until after he is examined by team physician Dr. Keith Meister. The 22-year-old reported the soreness after a recent spring training outing.
“Certainly not good news this morning,” Young said.
Leclerc began the 2019 season as the Texas closer before he was demoted after a rough opening month. The Rangers didn’t even get to find out if he was ready to resume the role last year because he made just two appearances before getting sidelined for the rest of the 60-game season by a shoulder injury.
Hernandez has been a consideration as the closer this year after leading the club with 27 appearances in 2020, going 5-1 with a 2.90 ERA. The 23-year-old said he felt something after throwing a bullpen session.
“You’re going to look at it two ways, panic and doom or opportunity,” manager Chris Woodward said. “It’s really, really frustrating just from an empathy standpoint. But the rest of the guys in the time being, we got to step up. Good organizations have depth.”
The Rangers have two non-roster veterans with experience as closers in right-handers Matt Bush and Ian Kennedy.
Bush was the 2004 No. 1 overall draft pick as a shortstop whose career was derailed by alcohol abuse before a big league debut as a reliever with Texas in 2016. The hard-throwing right-hander saved 11 games in a three-year stint before surgery for a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow in 2018. Bush hasn’t pitched in the majors since then.
Kennedy was a starter for 11 years before converting to a reliever and recording all 30 saves of his career in 2019 with Kansas City. The 36-year-old had a 9.00 ERA in 15 relief appearances with no saves for the Royals last year.
Young said left-handed relievers Brett Martin and Joely Rodriguez should return from injuries by mid-April. Martin has been battling a back issue. Rodriguez, who had a 2.13 ERA with 17 strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings last season, sprained an ankle before spring training.
“We have good arms, none of them fully experienced, but this is what happens,” Young said. “This is a great opportunity for a lot of our guys to step in and establish themselves. We’re looking for players who are going to seize this opportunity.”
Young said the Rangers still planned to start the season without outfielder and designated hitter Willie Calhoun, who has been battling a groin issue. Catcher Sam Huff, a top prospect who made his big league debut last season, is expected to stay in Arizona for minor league spring training while recovering from a strained left hamstring.