Final Vote candidate Scheppers needs boost
In evolution from thrower to pitcher, Texas reliever seeks All-Star spot
BALTIMORE -- Tanner Scheppers is a 6-foot-4 right-hander who averages 96 mph on his fastball but can hit 100 on occasion. He is one of the top 25 hardest-throwing pitchers in the Majors but also supplements his fastball with a mean slider.
With that simple repertoire, he is 5-1 with a 1.88 ERA in 42 appearances for the Rangers as their primary eighth-inning setup reliever. Opponents are hitting .205 off him and the Rangers are 30-12 in games he's pitched.
AL CANDIDATES BY THE NUMBERS
Four years after being taken with the 44th overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft, Scheppers has emerged as one of the top setup relievers in the American League. The Rangers have felt that way all season, but Tigers manager Jim Leyland confirmed it when he selected Scheppers as one of five candidates for the Final Vote and the last spot on the AL All-Star team.
"He has had a tremendous impact on our bullpen," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "I don't think we'd be where we are without Scheppers. He is the one who has been getting the ball to Joe Nathan, and everybody knows what Joe Nathan has been doing."
Scheppers has always been a hard thrower, but he has become more than that this season. He has become a big league pitcher.
"It's just been better location with movement," Scheppers said. "I've thrown more strikes. It's just having the opportunity to go out there and the confidence this team has had in me."
Scheppers is competing with four similar relievers: Steve Delabar of the Blue Jays, Joaquin Benoit of the Tigers, Koji Uehara of the Red Sox and David Robertson of the Yankees. Scheppers remains fifth in the voting according to the second ballot update released on Tuesday.
"It has been a good half, but there is a lot of season left," Scheppers said. "I just want to help the team any possible way I can."
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 Thursday 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 July 12 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.
A1 - Joaquin Benoit, Detroit
A2 - Steve Delabar, Toronto
A3 - David Robertson, New York Yankees
A4 - Tanner Scheppers, Texas
A5 - Koji Uehara, Boston
N1 - Ian Desmond, Washington
N2 - Freddie Freeman, Atlanta
N3 - Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles
N4 - Hunter Pence, San Francisco
N5 - Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles
That Scheppers has reached the point where he is deemed worthy of All-Star consideration is a testament to his perseverance. Scheppers was recruited out of Dana Hills (Calif.) High School as a shortstop but was moved to pitcher at Fresno State. He developed into an outstanding one and was 8-2 with a 2.93 ERA in 11 starts and one relief appearance as a junior in 2008. But a midseason shoulder injury kept him from being a part of the Bulldogs' remarkable run to a College World Series title.
The Pirates took him with the 48th overall pick in the 2008 Draft, but Scheppers did not sign. Instead, he pitched for St. Paul in the independent American Association, and that's where the Rangers found him.
When the Rangers drafted Scheppers, there was some thought he could get to the Majors quickly. That didn't happen. He didn't sign with the Rangers until Sept. 17, 2009, and a series of injuries plagued him through the next two seasons as the organization deliberated whether to use him as a starter or a reliever.
"Some say this has been a long road, some say it has been a short road," Scheppers said. "Through all the injuries you learn a lot about yourself. I'm a firm believer in everything happening for a reason."
The Rangers finally settled on using Scheppers as a reliever, and he made his Major League debut on June 7, 2012. He wasn't an immediate success. The Rangers used him mainly in middle relief last season and he was 1-1 with a 4.45 ERA in 39 appearances.
But, after a slow start, he emerged late in Spring Training as the Rangers' top right-handed setup candidate in a bullpen that was considered highly questionable going into the season. After losing Uehara, Mike Adams, Scott Feldman and Mark Lowe to free agency, as well as having Alexi Ogando moving into the rotation, there was great concern about the Rangers' bullpen on Opening Day.
But the bullpen took a collective 3.25 ERA into Monday's game with the Orioles, fifth best in the American League, and their four blown saves were tied for the fewest. They were also tied for second in the league with 19 relief wins. Scheppers, who was tied for second in individual relief wins and tied for fourth with 17 holds, has been a big part of that.
"We'd be in big-time trouble without him," bullpen coach Andy Hawkins said. "He has been exceptional locking down the eighth inning. You couldn't ask for much more than what he has done. The bullpen has been a big strength of our team and he has been a big part of that."
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.