Leclerc retired two of the four batters he faced in Monday's 3-1 exhibition win over the Dodgers. He gave up one run on two hits and struck out one. The run Leclerc allowed came on a solo blast by Brad Miller, the second the 25-year-old has surrendered this spring. Considering Leclerc has surrendered just five long balls over 118.1 career regular-season innings, it's probably best to take the home-run problems he's endured this spring with a grain of salt. On a more encouraging note, Leclerc has continued to display the improved control that keyed his 2018 breakout, as he's run up a 10:2 K:BB through 6.1 frames.
Leclerc allowed two runs (one earned) on two hits and three wild pitches while striking out three over an inning Saturday against the White Sox. Those aren't the results the team expected after inking Leclerc to a four-year contract extension earlier in the week. The right-hander suffered from shaky control prior to becoming the team's closer last season, so any whiff of those issues returning is notable. In 3.2 spring innings, Leclerc has allowed five runs (four earned) on five hits and two walks.
The extension Leclerc signed Wednesday with the Rangers is worth $14.75 million over four years and includes club options for 2023 and 2024, Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News reports. Leclerc's deal is worth a maximum value of $27 million and allows the Rangers to buy out his first two years of free agency, should the team choose to exercise the options. It's a sizable investment for a reliever with limited major-league experience in high-leverage spots, but Leclerc's utter dominance in 2018 made the Rangers more than comfortable with making the long-term commitment. After emerging as the team's closer in the second half of last season and finishing with a 1.56 ERA, 0.85 WHIP and 85 strikeouts in 57.2 innings, Leclerc will get the chance to supplement those sterling ratios with a full share of save opportunities in 2019.
Leclerc was told by manager Chris Woodward on Friday that he will be the Rangers' closer, T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com reports. Earlier in the offseason, there was a suggestion that Leclerc could have a flexible, multi-inning role. Plans have apparently changed, and it appears that he'll be used as a traditional closer. His team context doesn't provide for as many save opportunities as other closers, but he should be a reliable option when called upon. He posted a stellar 1.56 ERA with a 38.1 percent strikeout rate in 57.2 innings last season.
Leclerc pitched a scoreless 6.2 innings for Gigantes del Cibao in winter-league ball in the Dominican Republic. He allowed one hit and walked three while striking out eight. Leclerc had thrown nearly double those innings each of the last two years of winter ball, but his team did not qualify for the playoffs this year. He adds those 6.2 scoreless innings to the 21 scoreless he pitched over his final 21 outings in 2018, including while serving as Texas' closer. New manager Chris Woodward has talked about using Leclerc in a variety of high-leverage spots, not rigidly marrying him to the ninth inning, but the 25-year-old was excellent as closer. We believe Leclerc will get most of the save opportunities to start the season and, if he continues the improved command he showed last season, will be the primary closer all season.