Jennings possibly bidding for 'pen spot
Veteran hurler tossing self into consideration for middle-relief role
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Here is the question for pitching coach Mike Maddux: Can Jason Jennings be considered a candidate for middle relief?"Why not?" Maddux replied. "They've mentioned it," Jennings said Saturday morning. "I kind of figured it out when they had me throwing every other day one or two innings at a time. They've been trying to work me back slowly, maybe it's an option. I just want to pitch healthy."
Jennings, who has had two surgeries to repair a torn right flexor tendon over the past two years, has made 180 starts and one relief appearance in his eight-year Major League career. But he has been impressive to this point in camp, and the Rangers are mulling their options as far as his immediate future. Using him in middle relief has been discussed."It's something we're looking at," general manager Jon Daniels said. "It's an option at this point that we'll continue to evaluate and discuss."
Word is Jennings is pitching as well as he did when he was with the Rockies from 2001-06. His slider is sharp, and his velocity is back up to 89-90 mph on his sinking fastball."I've been very pleased with the way he's throwing the ball and the way he recovers," manager Ron Washington said. "He has great gamesmanship. You can see he's feeling good about his situation." Jennings was 60-70 with a 5.00 ERA while with the Rockies. He pitched at least 185 innings in four of five full seasons from 2002-06, and he was named National League Rookie of the Year when he won 16 games in '02. Jennings started having right elbow troubles after being traded to the Astros in '07, and his troubles continued after signing as a free agent with the Rangers last season. Now there are signs he could be back to where he was with the Rockies. "It sure feels that way," Jennings said. "I'm able to repeat my delivery and command all of my pitches. My velocity has been in the upper 80's all spring. ... That's a good sign." Jennings was re-signed right before Spring Training to give Texas some starting-pitching depth, and the original plan was to have him start the season at Double-A Frisco to continue building his arm strength. But that may not be the biggest need right now. The Rangers have a set rotation with Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Feldman and Matt Harrison. They have a viable sixth candidate in Kris Benson, and they also have Thomas Diamond, Luis Mendoza and Doug Mathis if needed. Two prized prospects in Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz -- who could start the season at Triple-A Oklahoma and enter the bigs quickly -- fill out the mix. The bullpen may be a bigger concern behind closer Frank Francisco and left-handed relievers C.J. Wilson and Eddie Guardado. The Rangers still have four spots to fill in a seven-man 'pen. Warner Madrigal should get one spot. Willie Eyre is winning another spot. Derrick Turnbow and Brendan Donnelly are competing for a right-handed setup spot, but both are far from winning a job and also are one-inning pitchers. The Rangers still need another middle/long man. Josh Rupe is one candidate, and he is out of options -- meaning he must be on the 25-man roster by Opening Day or he will be exposed to outright waivers. Dustin Nippert, who is currently sidelined with a strained back muscle, is in the same situation. Rupe had made six appearances and allowed five hits and four walks in 6 2/3 innings entering Saturday. He still has to earn the Rangers' trust in being able to pitch in meaningful situations. His erratic control is a concern. That's why Texas is discussing Jennings going to the bullpen. There are still some concerns, mainly over the strain relief pitching will place on his right elbow. "Coming off surgery, getting up and getting down like a reliever might not be good for him," Washington said. "We trying to get him healthy and keep him that way. You never know how the future will work out, but right now we're trying to get him stretched out as a starter." Jennings has pitched seven innings in five Cactus League games, and he has a 2.57 ERA while opponents are hitting .269 off him. He started a Triple-A game on Friday and threw 49 pitches over two innings. The Rangers would like to get him up to 80-90 pitches before spring is over. That would have him ready to start every fifth day in the Minor Leagues. But it could also set him up to be a long reliever/swing starter for the Rangers as well. "I feel I'm ready for any role they feel they want me for," Jennings said. "Relieving is something I feel I can do if that's what they want."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.