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06/07/08 9:20 PM ET

Rangers searching for fifth starter

Gabbard seems to be No. 1 option and could be called up soon

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers know that Sidney Ponson's abrupt departure has left a hole in their rotation, but they don't appear to be too upset about this latest development.

"The guy could pitch, it just didn't work out," manager Ron Washington said on Saturday, the day after Ponson was designated for assignment.

Ponson was 4-1 with a 3.88 ERA in nine starts, but the Rangers decided to drop him after a couple of off-field incidents that didn't sit well with Washington or general manager Jon Daniels. The Rangers' concern now is finding a replacement for him in a rotation that has used more than its fair share of starters over the first 63 games.

"The guy was pitching well for us, but we'll figure it out," pitching coach Mark Connor said.

Much may depend on how Kason Gabbard does in a start for Triple-A Oklahoma against New Orleans on Sunday. He was 1-2 with a 4.75 ERA in nine starts for the Rangers before being sent down to Oklahoma on May 30 to work on his control problems. Gabbard had walked 29 batters in 41 2/3 innings before being demoted.

He has made one start for the RedHawks, giving up five runs on nine hits in seven innings on Monday against Omaha while walking just two and striking out seven. If Gabbard can pitch well on Sunday, he could get the call and rejoin the rotation on Saturday against the Mets in New York. That's the next date the Rangers will need a fifth starter.

"He's a Major League pitcher, we just need to get him back to where he was," Connor said. "He could very well do for us what Ponson did. He showed it earlier this year and he showed it last year."

Eric Hurley is another possibility. He was 2-5 with a 5.56 ERA in 12 starts going into Saturday's start against New Orleans, but he also had a 3.61 ERA in his last five starts.

"His command has been a little bit better lately and he's using his changeup more effectively," Connor said. "He needs to do that. It's difficult to come up here and start with just two pitches unless your command is way above average."

Luis Mendoza, trying to recover from the elbow problems that put him on the disabled list in May, threw four perfect innings in his last start for Oklahoma, but is only up to about 40 pitches. He'll likely need two or three more outings before he can be considered an option.

"We want to get him back right," Connor said. "I just think he needs to get his command built up more. Throwing 39 pitches in the Minors, that's like two or three innings in the big leagues."

The biggest thing the Rangers will miss is the innings that Ponson gave them. Rangers starters are averaging 5.3 innings per start and have pitched the second fewest number of innings for a rotation in the American League. Ponson averaged just over six innings per start.

The Rangers don't need another weak link in the rotation causing even more work for their already extended bullpen. Kevin Millwood gave them seven innings on Thursday night and Vicente Padilla went six on Friday.

"If we can keep doing what Millwood and Padilla just did, we'll be fine," Connor said. "All we ask of our starters is give us innings and keep us in the game. With the four we have here now, that's not too much to ask. Whoever the fifth guy, he has to fit right in there."

It appears Gabbard will be given that chance if everything goes well on Sunday.

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