Rangers Notes: Patton, Hernandez, Engler

Spencer Patton’s successful return to the Majors in 2021 flew somewhat under the radar, but the 34-year-old righty emerged as a key reliever for the Rangers, pitching to a 3.83 ERA with a 27.9% strikeout rate, an 8.7% walk rate and a 41.3% ground-ball rate in 42 1/3 innings of work. That came on the heels of a strong four-year run with the Yokohama DeNA BayStars in Japan and marked Patton’s first big league action since a 2016 run with the Cubs. Prior to this past season, Patton carried a 6.26 ERA in 54 2/3 big league frames.

He’s not yet arbitration eligible, but the contract Patton signed upon returning from Japan calls for him to earn a $1.5MM salary in the Majors this year, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports. It’s a split contract, so he’d earn at a different rate in the minors in the event Texas options him out. (Patton does have one minor league option remaining.) The Rangers may yet add to the bullpen after the lockout lifts, but Patton has likely solidified on the Rangers’ Opening Day roster, barring injury or something unforeseen in whatever iteration of Spring Training is pieced together. Patton, Joe Barlow, Brett Martin and Josh Sborz all look like they have the inside track on Opening Day bullpen jobs, and the Rangers will hope to get hard-throwing righties Jose Leclerc and Jonathan Hernandez back from Tommy John surgery before too long, as well.

Some more notes on the Rangers…

  • Speaking of Hernandez, the right-hander tweeted last week that he’s begun throwing off a mound for the first time since undergoing that Tommy John procedure. Hernandez sustained what was described as a “low-grade” tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow early in 2021 Spring Training and was shut down for a four-week period of rest. Doctors seemingly didn’t see enough improvement following that shutdown, as he underwent surgery on April 12 of last year. The 25-year-old Hernandez had a big showing with Texas during the shortened 2020 season, pitching to a 2.90 ERA with a 24.8% strikeout rate, 6.7% walk rate and 45.7% grounder rate in 31 innings. Hernandez averaged 96.7 mph on his heater that summer and posted a strong 13.9% swinging-strike rate as well. He’s had trouble with command in the past, particularly in 2019 when he walked one of every six hitters he faced in his big league debut (16 2/3 innings). He pairs that power fastball with a plus slider, however, and if he can sustain the improved command he showed in 2020, he’d quickly emerge as a high-end bullpen piece for manager Chris Woodward.
  • One name who might’ve emerged in the bullpen mix, Scott Engler, won’t be pitching at all in 2022, tweets Jeff Wilson. The 25-year-old righty underwent Tommy John surgery on Monday this week, ruling him out of the team’s immediate plans. A 16th-round pick in 2016, Engler split the 2021 season between Double-A and Triple-A, pitching to a combined 3.71 ERA with a 28.2% strikeout rate, a 10.6% walk rate and a 48.5% ground-ball rate. FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen wrote last May that Engler has a plus splitter with so much drop that it can at times be mistaken for a curveball. The surgery figures to sideline Engler into the early stages of the 2023 season, but based on his upper-level experience and relative success, he could find himself in the bullpen mix next year.

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