Banister praises Claudio's work for Puerto Rico

Banister praises Claudio's work for Puerto Rico

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The most significant outing by a Rangers pitcher this spring came not in Arizona or San Antonio, but at the World Baseball Classic.

Team Puerto Rico witnessed first-hand why Alex Claudio was so valuable to the Rangers last season. The left-handed reliever with the funky delivery pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings in Puerto Rico's 6-5 victory over Team USA.

"Alex threw the ball well," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "Very similar to what we saw last year with the arm angle, the mix of pitches, and he got outs. That's what Claudio dies. He moves the needle every time out. He doesn't overwhelm you, he just gets big outs."

Claudio entered the game in the sixth inning the with two outs and a runner on base. Puerto Rico had a 4-3 lead and Claudio shut down the threat by getting Eric Hosmer to ground out.

Claudio stayed in for the seventh after Puerto Rico scored twice to take a 6-3 lead. Claudio retired Buster Posey and Paul Goldschmidt on fly balls, walked Brandon Crawford and retired Josh Harrison on a grounder to end the inning.

Banister said it may have been the biggest moment ever for Claudio, even though he pitched five scoreless innings over two appearances against the Blue Jays in the postseason last year.

"Being on that stage, in that uniform and in that setting, I believe that's tops for him," Banister said.

It is easy to overlook Claudio in the Rangers' bullpen, which overflows with right-handed power arms hitting around 95 miles per hour on the radar gun. His fastball coming out of that sidearm delivery averaged 85.5 mph year ago. He still went 4-1 with a 2.79 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP in 39 appearances last season.

Claudio had 11 outings last season where he pitched two or more innings and he had a 1.29 ERA in those appearances. So he can be comfortable in a long and/or middle relief role. He also held left-handed hitting opponents to a .177 batting average, so he could also be used in late-inning setup roles against tough left-handed hitters. Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager of the Mariners were both 0-for-4 against him last season.

Claudio should have a significant role this season if the Rangers can overlook the lack of velocity.

"Claudio is the same guy I saw pitch in Spring Training of 2015," Banister said. "The demeanor, the way he walks off the mound, the way he takes the ball, he is very true to what he does."

Friday was only Claudio's second appearance in the World Baseball Classic, and the other was in the first round, lasting just one batter. Puerto Rico has advanced to the final round, so Claudio could get one or two more outings before returning to the Rangers.

That will give the Rangers 10 days to get him the work he needs to be ready for Opening Day.

"We feel confident we will be able to do that," Banister said. "Claudio has become adept at sitting for long periods of time and then coming in to pitch effectively. The arm strength and mix of pitches will be there."

The World Baseball Classic runs through Wednesday. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games in San Diego's Petco Park and the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.