Francisco could return Friday
Rangers closer recovering from right biceps tendinitis
ARLINGTON -- Frank Francisco, sidelined with biceps tendinitis in his right arm, had a good day on Wednesday, giving the Rangers hope that he could return to his closer's role on either Friday or Saturday.Francisco reported much improvement from the soreness that has sidelined him since his last appearance a week ago in Oakland. "So far, I feel good," Francisco said before Wednesday's game with the Mariners. "I did my exercises today and felt great. I felt better than I thought." The Rangers are hoping Francisco can have a light bullpen session on Thursday and then will make a decision on Friday if he's ready to go. "Friday is the point day," manager Ron Washington said. "We have to see where we are on that day."
Francisco has been outstanding for the Rangers since Opening Day, but has also led the charge for a bullpen crew that has enjoyed an excellent two-week run. Rangers relievers went into Wednesday with a 2.94 ERA in the club's past 14 games and a 3.45 ERA in the past 21 games, lowering their overall ERA from 8.63 to 5.32.That's not sterling, but it has moved the Rangers from having the highest bullpen ERA in the American League to having the fifth highest. But they are also tied with the Red Sox and Tigers with just two blown saves on the season for the fewest in the AL. The Rangers, who have the lowest overall ERA in the AL for the month of May, benefit from a stable rotation. Last year, their relievers pitched the most innings in the AL. Going into Wednesday's game, they had pitched the second fewest. It makes a huge difference in how Washington uses his relievers. In the past, he often had to use multiple pitchers for multiple innings to get him through a game when one of his starters didn't make it through six innings. Rangers starters averaged 5.4 innings per start in 2008. They are averaging 6.1 innings per start this season and 6.3 over their past 16 games. That allows Washington to use his relievers by matchup. If he's looking at a run of left-handed hitters, he has left-handers C.J. Wilson and Derek Holland. If the opposing team has right-handers coming up, Washington has Jason Jennings and Darren O'Day. Kris Benson, the long man, has only been needed once since being activated off the disabled list. "We don't have to use three or four guys every night," Washington said. "We always have somebody fresh. Also, if we use somebody for just a couple of batters and he only throws six or seven pitches, he's ready to come back the next night." Holland has been an obvious big addition, and Washington seems to be entrusting him to a more significant late-innings role that was once intended for Eddie Guardado. Holland has a 1.74 ERA in six games since being promoted from Triple-A Oklahoma. "The guy throws strikes," Washington said. "He's not afraid. If the opposing lineup says Holland is the best matchup, then it doesn't matter, he'll be in there. He throws strikes. That's all that counts. This kid has shown a lot of maturity." The Rangers also haven't forgotten about Guardado. He started off the season terribly while struggling with command and location but has a 2.08 ERA in his past eight games and set down the side in order in the ninth on Tuesday in the Rangers' 7-1 victory. "The last few outings he has been progressing," Washington said. "[Tuesday] night he did what Eddie does. He hit his spots and his location. He looked like the Eddie we saw last year." Overall, though, the bullpen hasn't looked anything like the Rangers saw last year. Right now, that's a good thing; they just need to get their closer back. He's getting closer, as it were.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.