Performer of the Game: Rangers' Ogando
Righty fires two shutout innings of relief to nab Game 1 victory
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers unleashed their not-so-secret relief weapon again in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, and to no one's surprise, Alexi Ogando delivered exactly what his team needed.
The only secret might be how Ogando can go from a full rookie season as a reliever to a full second season as a starter and then enter the 2011 postseason back in the bullpen, all without skipping a beat.
After he pitched two stellar innings of relief Saturday night following a second rain delay that interrupted the opener of the ALCS against the Tigers, Ogando shrugged off any suggestion that what he's doing is extraordinary.
"I don't have any problems with it at all, because in the season I'd pitch seven or eight innings during the season as a starter, so pitching only a couple of innings, it's not too hard to do that," Ogando said through an interpreter in the victorious Rangers clubhouse after he was credited with the win in a 3-2 defeat of the Tigers.
Spin to Win
Manager Ron Washington isn't fooled. He knows he has something special in his back pocket for pretty much every game this postseason, having broken out the talented right-hander three times in the AL Division Series with equal dominance.
Already blessed with a relief corps anchored by lights-out closer Neftali Feliz, the Rangers' bullpen depth is a lot deeper with Ogando in the mix.
"I tell you what, he is certainly showing that he's a great piece to have down there, especially when you got him where he can give you multiple innings," Washington said. "There's times when I have to use him for one. Tonight I needed him for two -- and he gave it to me.
"We knew he could throw out of the bullpen. We took a chance on him throwing this year as a starting pitcher, and he showed us he can do that also. What a weapon to have."
Throw Ogando in there in the middle innings with good friend Feliz looming at the end of the game -- Feliz striking out the side for his third one-run save of the postseason Saturday night -- and the Rangers certainly seem to have it covered once their starter exits the game.
To a career reliever like Mike Adams, who also contributed to the Rangers' 4 1/3 innings of hitless relief after C.J. Wilson's night was over, Ogando is indeed a special asset to have as part of what already was one of the game's strongest bullpens.
"This guy was in the All-Star Game as a starter, and to put him in the bullpen, that just makes him that much more lethal," Adams said.
Ogando had a 1.30 ERA in 44 relief appearances in the 2010 regular season, and he carried that into the postseason before being disabled at the end of the World Series with an oblique strain. Ogando then earned All-Star honors as a starter this year after being tabbed for the rotation at the end of Spring Training. The early results were simply historic, as Ogando went 7-0 with a 2.10 ERA in his first 12 starts. He didn't keep up that pace, but Ogando wound up with a strong first season as a starter before being backed off in September to curtail his innings total.
That kept Ogando's arm just fresh enough for him to return to a relief role he performed so well in 2010.
"He went through a whole year in that role last year, so he knows what it takes," catcher Mike Napoli said. "He knows what the preparation is to get ready, and it's huge to have another power arm in the bullpen to get it done."
Ogando certainly has been sharp, having allowed just one hit in 2 2/3 innings over three outings against the Rays. He then topped it Saturday night with one walk and three strikeouts in the sixth and seventh innings against the Tigers, joining with lefties Michael Gonzalez and Darren Oliver to hand the ball over to Feliz.
This weapon is no secret to the Tigers, either. Ogando was the winning pitcher in all three games the Rangers took in going 3-6 against Detroit during the regular season.
Make that four wins now, with a postseason victory -- awarded by the official scorer after Wilson didn't finish the requisite five innings to earn the win.
"I think I've been lucky. I always pitch good against them," Ogando said. "I keep my pitches low and put them where I want. It's simple for me."
The impressive bullpen performance was capped by another electrifying outing by fireballing closer Feliz, who's as happy as anybody that Ogando has joined him in the Rangers' deep and threatening relief corps.
"We're good friends, so to have him in the bullpen feels great, and I know both of us are going to do a great job," Feliz said through the interpreter, standing in his clubhouse cubicle right next to Ogando's.
And here's another piece of bad news for the Tigers: The Rangers' not-so-secret weapon will be locked and loaded should his team need him again. Since the Rangers only needed Ogando for two innings and 32 pitches, he'll be available for Game 2.
"Yeah, I'm ready," Ogando said. "I like to help the team in any way, being a starter or being a reliever."
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.