Scheppers' velocity, 'attitude' reasons for improvement
Rangers' setup man, closer could both go to All-Star Game for first time since 1999
BALTIMORE -- Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux was sitting in the visitors' dugout at Camden Yards on a humid Tuesday afternoon when the conversation was steered toward reliever Tanner Scheppers.
Scheppers is one of five relievers who were picked for the American League Final Vote and the last spot on the All-Star team. Maddux was asked what has made Scheppers so successful this season as a pitcher.
"I think he has discovered who he is, No. 1, and he understands what his strength is," Maddux said. "He understands his strength is better than the hitter's strength no matter who the hitter is."
So what is his strength?
"A sinking fastball," Maddux said. "With velocity and attitude."
"Uh-huh," Maddux said. "There is a little mean streak in Tanner that a lot of people don't know about. He takes that on the mound with him."
There have also been his other pitches that have been better this season.
"His breaking ball has been pretty good and he has a pretty good changeup," Maddux said. "Tanner has been good about getting quick outs and when he's facing adversity, he has not been afraid to go to those pitches."
Scheppers fastball can run up to the plate at 97-98 mph, but he has only struck out 29 batters in 43 innings going into Tuesday's game against Orioles.
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"He doesn't try to strike out hitters," Maddux said. "He tries to get quick outs. He understands the less they see you, the better. He rifles it in there, keeps it down and gets ground balls."
The result is a 5-1 record with a 1.84 ERA in Scheppers' 43 appearances as the Rangers' primary eighth-inning reliever. He is competing against Steve Delabar of the Blue Jays, Koji Uehara of the Red Sox, David Robertson of the Yankees and Joaquin Benoit of the Tigers in the Final Vote.
As of the latest voting update Thursday, Delabar was still leading the vote, followed by Robertson, Uehara, Benoit and Scheppers. The voting is still tight and there is time for Scheppers to make a late rally.
Now in its 12th year, the 2013 All-Star Game Final Vote sponsored by freecreditscore.com gives baseball fans around the world the opportunity to select the final player on each All-Star team. Balloting began immediately following Saturday's Major League All-Star Selection Show presented by Taco Bell and ends today at 3 p.m. CT. The winners will be announced on MLB.com shortly thereafter.
There will be an extra treat for fans who participate in the Final Vote online. If you are not a current MLB.TV subscriber (MLB.TV or MLB.TV Premium), you are eligible to receive a 14-day free trial of MLB.TV from July 12-26. If you are a current MLB.TV subscriber (MLB.TV or MLB.TV Premium), you will receive a 15-percent discount to the MLB.com Shop. MLB.com will send an email on Friday to all Final Vote voters with instructions on how to redeem the applicable offer.
Mobile voting in the U.S. and Canada is open to everyone. In the U.S., to receive the 2013 All-Star Game Final Vote sponsored by freecreditscore.com mobile ballot, text the word "VOTE" to 89269. To vote for Scheppers, simply text message A4 to 89269. In Canada, fans should text A4 to 101010. Standard message and data rates may apply.
If Scheppers wins, the Rangers will send their closer and eighth-inning setup reliever to the All-Star Game. The last time that happened was in 1999, when both John Wetteland and Jeff Zimmerman represented the Rangers at Fenway Park.
Joe Nathan was selected to the team in the player's vote. He went into Tuesday's game with 30 saves, a 1.36 ERA and an opponents' batting average of .149.
One thing that has helped Nathan this year is the Rangers have limited him to just one inning at a time. He has had to get more than three outs just once in 41 appearances, and that was in a tie game. The effectiveness of Texas' relievers in front of him has allowed Nathan that luxury. Nathan credited the whole bullpen for allowing that to happen, but Scheppers has been the Rangers' primary eighth-inning reliever.
"I always say the ability for a closer to throw just one inning is a credit to the whole bullpen and their ability to take one inning and complete one inning," Nathan said. "You hear it all the time: closers hope to get a clean inning. Mariano Rivera, in his best years, gives a lot of credit to the guys in the Yankees bullpen who allow him not to go multiple innings."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.