"It's a beautiful thing," Rangers reliever Eddie Guardado said. "Anytime your starters are going six-plus innings, it's awesome. It takes a lot of pressure off the bullpen, and everybody knows their role. It's like a domino effect."
But it also means less regular work. Jason Jennings, who was the Rangers' most effective setup reliever in April, has pitched just twice in May. Entering Sunday, Kris Benson had pitched just once in May, and that was 10 days ago in Oakland. The Rangers spent the last week of Spring Training trying to find 2-3 relievers who could give them multiple innings; now they don't have any use for them.
Rangers starters went into Sunday's game averaging 6.6 innings per start in their last 22 games.
"The toughest thing is, we're on a good roll and you want to be a part of it and contribute," Jennings said. "But the season is a weird thing. You'll have a two-week period where the starters go 7-8 innings and then you'll have a stretch of two weeks where they have to work hard to go 5-6 innings, and that's when it comes in to play where we have to pick them up."
Rangers starters have pitched at least six innings in 16 of their last 22 games. They went at least eight innings in five of those games. In 2008, Rangers starters went at least eight innings in just nine games over the entire 162-game season.
"If a starter wants to go eight innings, you're not going to stop them," manager Ron Washington said. "I'm not going to take a guy out just to get somebody some work."
The Rangers employ a seven-man bullpen. Washington said there is no talk about dropping a reliever and going with an extra man on the bench. Pitching coach Mike Maddux said, "There is safety in numbers" and the Rangers really don't need an extra man on the bench right now.
Washington is having enough trouble juggling playing time for his outfielders, and shortstop Elvis Andrus is the only starter that he pinch-hits for during a game. The Rangers could use some speed off the bench -- Greg Golson -- but Washington at this point still wants the seven relievers.
"I'd like the extra bench player," Washington said. "I'd welcome that. It just doesn't work for us. Even though you have a seven-man bullpen, somebody is always down, so you're dealing with just six, anyway."
Some managers like the extra bench player when playing in a National League city without the designated hitter. There is more potential for using reserves because of pinch-hitting for the pitcher and the possibility of a double-switch. The Rangers play in Houston next weekend, but Washington said it's unlikely they'll add the extra bench player in place of a reliever.
"Not for three games," Washington said.
He said the Rangers might consider that in June, when they undertake a six-game trip to San Francisco and Arizona, but he still likes the seven-man bullpen. It's up to the relievers to stay sharp and be ready.
"Sharpness is between the ears," Maddux said. "If you think you'll be sharp and expect to be sharp, you will be sharp."