Ogando continues to be masterful out of 'pen
For second straight postseason, starter is brilliant in relief
ARLINGTON -- To Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux, the craze surrounding starting pitcher Alexi Ogando would be tempered if folks could realize that they're watching a repeat performance, not some novelty.
The Ogando who was the winning pitcher in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series -- the one who might have been in consideration for Most Valuable Player of the LCS if it wasn't for Nelson Cruz's historic performance -- is also the Ogando who plowed through the playoffs in 2010 to the tune of a 1.50 ERA.
"Everybody's been making a big deal about what Alexi did this year," Maddux said. "But he did the same thing last year. He was a wild card for us last year, and he was a wild card for us this year. The guy's a good pitcher, man. He's a big reason why we're here, along with all the other guys down here."
Through Saturday night's 15-5 thumping of the Tigers that clinched Texas' second straight trip to the World Series, the Rangers bullpen had a collective 2.34 ERA this postseason, the best of any of the four teams that made the LCS. Scott Feldman -- the unheralded Scott Feldman -- and St. Louis' Jason Motte are the only two relievers who have thrown at least six innings and have yet to allow a run in this year's playoffs. Right behind them, with one run allowed in 10 1/3 innings (a .087 ERA), is Ogando.
Feldman's numbers, along with closer Neftali Feliz's for that matter, are right there with Ogando's. Like Feliz, Ogando is a second-year pitcher. But the way in which Ogando's performance becomes startling -- at least for some -- is how seamlessly he's been able to settle into a crucial bullpen role after spending almost the entire year as a starter.
Ogando pitched in all four of the Rangers' wins against the Tigers, in high leverage situations and for no fewer than five outs each time. That provided comfort in a series where Texas' starters didn't meet expectations.
"If you would have said at the beginning of this series that our starting pitching wasn't going to do well, I'm sure it would've made some guys nervous around here," said Texas outfielder David Murphy. "But our bullpen came up so big that all we needed to do was get our starter through four or five innings. Nelson Cruz was a big-time hero this series, but I'd definitely say Alexi Ogando could have been the MVP right behind him."
"He was terrific, he was terrific," said Adrian Beltre, who was not a teammate of Ogando's last year. "I think that he was the main guy in our bullpen that kept us alive. He kept us right there and we were able to score later in the game."
Ogando's switch to the bullpen may in part have been because he seemed to tire near season's end. It, too, may have been because his overpowering stuff profiles well in a relief role, and because he was a full-time reliever in the Majors in 2010.
"I was prepared, I prepared for that," Ogando said of the switch after Game 6. "They were confident in me and I was confident in myself."
Ogando's performance does leave room to speculate, however, whether the Rangers might have been in even better shape had they decided to keep Ogando in the rotation and moved another one of their starters, like Matt Harrison or Derek Holland, into the bullpen. Doing so now before the World Series would seem unlikely, if not extreme, but wouldn't be unfathomable.
"Ogando's a good Major League pitcher, man," Maddux said. "With the experience he gathered as a starter this year, he really showed up out of the bullpen."
Asked if Ogando's performance thus far made him think that Ogando could have started this postseason, Maddux said only: "He's a versatile guy, man."
As good as Ogando's been, he's not brushing shoulders with history. His ERA through his first 12 career postseason appearances is 1.10. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, eight different pitchers had a zero ERA through their first dozen playoff appearances. Using a minimum of 15 innings pitched to start a playoff career -- Ogando has 16 1/3 -- he doesn't rank in the top five.