Kevin Jairaj – US PRESSWIRE
After being stuck in his native Dominican Republic for more than four years, right-hander Alexi Ogando has blossomed into an All-Star pitcher and one of the keys to a potential World Series victory for the Rangers. Lone Star Dugout looks at Ogando's contribution in the playoffs and his journey to this point.
During the regular season, the Texas Rangers’ pitching staff topped the American League with 19 shutouts. The Chicago White Sox were second––with 14. The club also ranked amongst the top in baseball with 10 complete games from the starting pitchers.
The postseason has been a different story. In Texas’ 10 postseason games, the starters have posted a cumulative 5.62 earned-run average. They’ve also yet to work past the sixth inning in any start. So far, it hasn’t mattered. The club is currently in the World Series with a 7-3 postseason record. It’s in large part due to the work of the bullpen, which has logged a 2.34 ERA and yielded only 29 hits in 42.1 innings.
Perhaps the biggest factor in the bullpen thus far is flame-throwing righty Alexi Ogando, who has allowed one run on four hits in 10.1 postseason innings, walking two and striking out 12. More importantly, he is eating up innings in the gap between the starters and closer Neftali Feliz. Ogando totaled 7.2 frames in four appearances during the ALCS against Detroit.
The Dominican Republic native isn’t only getting dominant results, but his stuff is also the sharpest of his career. Ogando is consistently throwing his fastball between 95-99 mph to go along with a sharp, late-breaking wipeout slider at 84-86 mph. He’s also mixing in the little-used changeup effectively.
On top of the dominant stuff, Ogando is getting ahead in counts and locating all three pitches. He has thrown 102 of his 151 postseason pitches for strikes––a remarkable 68 percent.
Ogando once was somewhat of a myth to Rangers fans, firing triple-digit fastballs at the club’s Dominican Republic complex for four years.
Initially signed by Oakland as an outfielder in 2002, Ogando played the ’03 and ’04 seasons with the Athletics’ short-season clubs in the U.S. The 6-foot-4 athlete flashed plus raw power and a cannon of an arm from right field.
But after the ’04 campaign, Ogando’s once promising career came to an abrupt halt. Ogando and approximately 30 other Dominican players––including Rangers prospect Omar Beltre––were caught in a marriage fraud scandal. The players were signing papers to marry women they’d never met in order for the women to enter the United States.
While all players involved were banned from entering the U.S., the Rangers took a chance on Ogando by selecting him in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 Draft in December 2005. The club did so with the intention of immediately moving him to the mound.
The Rangers spent more than four years attempting to get Ogando and Beltre back into the States while both hurlers lit up the much younger Dominican Summer League. In 81 career DSL innings, Ogando posted a 1.11 ERA while fanning 114 batters in 81 innings. Meanwhile, Rangers fans heard stories of the banished pitcher flashing triple-digit velocity in the Dominican.
At one point, the club considered selling both players to Japan. Luckily for the Rangers, that never happened, and the prospects were finally granted visas just in time for spring training in 2010.
Despite Ogando’s overall lack of experience on the mound––especially against top-flight competition––he impressed in spring training and was assigned straight to Double-A Frisco. After a brief minor league stint, Ogando was pitching for the big league club by mid-June of last season.
The former position player immediately became a dominant force in the Texas bullpen last year, posting a 1.30 ERA while allowing only 31 hits in 41.2 innings.
The 2011 campaign provided a new challenge for Ogando, as he moved into the Rangers’ starting rotation out of spring training. It was a tall order for a pitcher who entered the season with 153.1 career innings pitched at both the minor and major league levels.
As it turned out, the 28-year-old was not only the Rangers’ most effective starting pitcher in the first half, but he was also named to his first All-Star team after going 9-3 with a 2.92 ERA before the break. He faded down the stretch––posting a 4.48 second-half ERA––and that’s why he is in the bullpen for the postseason.
Ogando’s stuff certainly plays up out of the bullpen, and legitimate questions as to whether he can handle 200-plus innings per year as a starter remain. Still, he may enter spring training in 2012 as one of the club’s five best starting pitchers, and the bullpen should be strong with the return of Feliz and setup man Mike Adams.
At any rate, it’s a debate for the offseason. It’s a debate the Rangers are happy will have to wait until the World Series concludes. For now, Ogando is flashing the best stuff of his young career, and he is among the biggest keys to a potential Rangers World Series triumph.
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