MINNEAPOLIS -- His arms flexed at his sides, Tanner Scheppers let out a yell one part excitement, one part relief.
The Texas Rangers right-hander had just induced a sharp ground ball off the bat of Minnesota Twins cleanup hitter Josh Willingham -- already with a homer in the game -- that Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler and Mitch Moreland turned into a pair of outs to escape a bases-loaded jam and preserve Texas’ one-run, eighth-inning advantage in its eventual 2-1 victory over the Twins Thursday night.
Consider it another stage in the evolution of the 26-year-old from just another inconsistent arm to a vital cog in the back end of the Rangers’ bullpen.
“That’s just growth,” Texas manager Ron Washington said. “We always knew he could throw the ball; it was just a matter of how consistently he could throw strikes. And he’s showing he can throw strikes right now.”
Scheppers (2-0) hasn’t allowed a run in 10 appearances over 11⅔ innings this season, although his path to hold No. 4 this season could’ve been tidier.
After a foul popup for the first out, Scheppers allowed a flare to right field off the bat of pinch hitter Wilkin Ramirez, followed by a sharp double from leadoff man Brian Dozier. Scheppers intentionally walked Joe Mauer to load the bases and worked the count full to Willingham before locating a two-seam fastball on the outer half of the plate to induce the double play.
“Just really wanted in play on the ground, get it on the corner or up the middle,” Scheppers said. “Definitely nice to get out of it but definitely want cleaner innings than that.”
That said, the Rangers are learning a lot about their young setup man early in the season based on jams like he pitched into and out of on Thursday.
“Scheppers is a guy -- I don’t think it’s any secret -- his stuff is electric,” closer Joe Nathan said. “[He’s] pitched in tight situations and gotten out of those tight situations, which helps. It gives a little more confidence and lets you know you can do it. So each time out there you know you can do it.”
As Scheppers continues to trust himself, Texas will keep entrusting him with the baseball in late-inning pressure situations. And while both parties might ultimately prefer a nonchalant walk to the dugout after a 1-2-3 inning, they also both know that the yells that do come from him as the season progresses will be many more parts excitement than frustration.