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04/05/08 10:01 PM ET

Rupe healthy, but no innings so far

Rangers' starters giving no cause for middle relievers

ANAHEIM -- Right-handed reliever Josh Rupe is the last man sitting for the Rangers. That's a sign of good starting pitching.

The Rangers went into Saturday's game against the Angels with Rupe, one of two long relievers in the bullpen, being the only player on the 25-man roster who had not appeared in a game yet.

"There hasn't been much use for me," Rupe said. "I think my role is a multi-inning guy, and it's good for us that our starters have been throwing well and deep into the game. My time will be here soon, but hopefully not too soon."

The Rangers started the season with an eight-man bullpen because they were concerned about their starting pitching not being effective and pitching enough innings. That hasn't been the case. Through the first four games, Rangers starters have averaged six innings per start with a 1.88 ERA.

The starters have been so effective that the Rangers even discussed dropping one reliever and adding an extra infielder. Twice this week they've had situations arise where they had to think about the possibility of backup catcher Adam Melhuse playing third base. They've decided against a roster move for now.

"I'd like the extra player, but we haven't gotten to that point yet," manager Ron Washington said.

Another factor is Franklyn German has some back soreness, which is why he pitched to just one batter in the ninth inning of Friday's 11-6 victory over the Angels. He was unavailable on Saturday, but the Rangers hope he'll be ready Sunday.

The Rangers, who are going with a four-man rotation for the first two weeks of the season, do have to drop a reliever next Saturday. That's when the Rangers will need a fifth starter for the first time and plan on activating Luis Mendoza off the disabled list. At that point they'll be back in the standard formation of seven relievers and four bench players.

Rupe has options, so he could be the leading candidate to be sent down when Mendoza is activated. But he also defied some long odds in Spring Training by overcoming past elbow problems, some early troubles and sizable competition to win a spot in the Opening Day bullpen.

This is a guy who was limited to 88 1/3 innings over the past two seasons because of a bad elbow that finally required surgery last June. Rupe, after making seven starts at Triple-A Oklahoma, had bone spurs removed, a general cleanup and the elbow bone reshaped to keep it from causing more pain.

He returned at the end of August and was only able to make two rehabilitation starts in the Arizona Rookie League. But it was the first time in several years he had pitched without pain in his elbow, and it set him up well enough to make the team this spring.

"I came back from surgery a better pitcher," Rupe said. "I'm not worried about health anymore. My whole focus now is becoming a better pitcher."

Remember, Rupe was almost the Rangers' fifth starter coming out of camp in 2006 before he was brought down by elbow problems. He still has hopes of being a starter again, although the Rangers want him to concentrate on relief work. The idea is to get him 70-90 innings and through the season healthy, then see what the next step could be.

The Rangers have enough starting candidates coming through the system. Rupe's future may be as a power setup reliever right behind C.J. Wilson. After all, some of these promising young pitchers have to be in the bullpen. Not everybody can start.

"With his stuff, he could definitely be at the back end of the bullpen," pitching coach Mark Connor said. "He's got a power curveball, power sinker ... he's got great stuff. At this point, though, we just want to get him through the year healthy."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.