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03/21/10 4:00 PM ET

Wilson takes swing at rotation spot

Rangers lefty out to solidify claim to starting job

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- There is much suspense surrounding C.J. Wilson's start against the Giants on Monday.

He is well aware of it and appears to be thinking about it around the clock. He can almost feel the lumber in his hands.

"What I'm really excited about is the chance to swing at a baseball not on a tee," Wilson said. "If we have a DH, I'm going to be really disappointed."

There will not be a designated hitter in Scottsdale when the Rangers play the Giants. National League rules are usually used in National League parks, although a DH can be used if the home manager agrees. Not in this case. Wilson will get to take his cuts, not that manager Ron Washington is particularly thrilled by the idea.

"My hope is he gets a chance to bunt," Washington said.

Washington, in past years, had his pitchers keep their bats on their shoulders on those rare occasions when they got to hit in a Cactus League game. But pitching coach Mike Maddux has convinced him otherwise.

"Michael convinced me to let them have fun," Washington said. "I'm trying to coax them to go up there and not take a big hack."

Wilson needs to be smart. There is another matter at stake in Scottsdale. Wilson has a chance to cement his new status as a member of the Rangers rotation. There are still two weeks to go before Opening Day but Wilson and Matt Harrison are well in front in the pursuit of the final two spots in the Rangers rotation.

Winning a spot in the rotation was Wilson's goal coming into camp.

"That's not the only goal," Wilson said. "That's step one. Spring Training doesn't count for anything. My goal is to go out there and win during the season.

"I'm doing everything I can to establish myself as a winning pitcher at the front of a game as I have at the back end. We still have a couple of weeks left in camp. There is a lot of stuff going on but I'm focused on what I'm doing."

The Rangers officially have two spots in the rotation open now that Tommy Hunter is sidelined with a strained oblique muscle in his left rib cage. Wilson and Harrison have pitched the best of all candidates for those two spots.

Wilson has pitched nine innings and allowed four runs on six hits and a walk while striking out eight. He has also been economical and efficient with his pitch counts. In his last outing against the Cubs, he threw 47 pitches in four innings. The plan for Monday is five innings and 87 pitches.

"I want to go more than five and less than 87 pitches," Wilson said. "I'm on a pretty good roll with my pitching efficiency. The work and preparation is paying off. But it doesn't matter how I'm pitching in March. It's July, August and September that count."

March matters if he wants a spot in the rotation and the mandate given to Wilson this spring was lowering his pitch counts. He has done that.

"I'm not walking anybody," Wilson said. "That's four less pitches here or there. But when you are a setup reliever or a closer coming into a tie game or close game, you come in with the mentality that you can't allow a hit or you can't allow a ball out of the infield.

"I'm not saying you're nibbling but you're trying to make the nastiest pitch on the corner of the strike zone, pitches that are barely strikes, barely hittable or not hittable at all. Try to make an overpowering pitch. As a starter, it's about going out there and locating."

Neftali Feliz is still a candidate for the rotation but is more likely to be in the bullpen. He is scheduled to pitch in a "B" game against the Brewers at Maryvale Baseball Park on Monday.

Derek Holland and Brandon McCarthy also remain in the running. But Wilson gets another chance Monday to pad his advantage, as well as swing the bat.

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