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06/16/10 11:52 PM ET

Hunter exits early with strained hip flexor

Rangers say pitcher should be fine, but ailing rotation in flux

MIAMI -- The Rangers think Tommy Hunter is fine. They are expressing optimism that he will be able to make his next start on Tuesday against the Pirates, even though he left Wednesday's start against the Marlins with a strained right hip flexor.

Maybe it's because they don't want to think about the alternatives they would have to consider if Hunter is down for an extended period of time.

"I really don't have any reason to be worried," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "If for some reason Tommy can't post, we'll have somebody else ready."

Hunter left the game after facing three hitters in the third inning. The Rangers needed 6 2/3 innings from the bullpen to hold on to a 6-3 victory over the Marlins at Sun Life Stadium.

"It's not that bad," Hunter said in the Rangers' clubhouse afterward. "I think we'll find out a lot more tomorrow. I can't feel anything right now walking around. Hopefully it will be all right."

Hunter said he injured the hip on a pickoff throw in the second inning, catching a spike in the mound dirt as he turned and threw over to first base. He finished the inning, but the hip was bothering him. He retired the first hitter in the third inning on a fly ball, then walked the opposing pitcher. When he went to three balls to the next hitter, Washington, pitching coach Mike Maddux and trainer Jamie Reed went to the mound.

Hunter came out of the game.

"It felt all right, but they said my mechanics changed a lot," Hunter said. "They said it will be all right."

If not, the Rangers will have much sorting out to do with their pitching staff if Hunter somehow joins Derek Holland and Rich Harden on the disabled list. Brandon McCarthy is also still on the disabled list at Triple-A Oklahoma City with a stress fracture in his right shoulder blade.

Hunter, who took Holland's spot in the rotation, was replaced by Matt Harrison, one of the Rangers' long relievers. Harrison began the season in the rotation, went 1-1 with a 5.29 ERA in six starts and then went on the DL with biceps tendinitis. He was sidelined from May 7-28, and then went into the bullpen when he was activated.

The Rangers may have to rethink that situation.

Texas is already pulling out Dustin Nippert from the bullpen to start on Thursday. Nippert is filling in for Harden, who was placed on the DL on Saturday with a strained left gluteus muscle.

"These are what brings teams together," Maddux said. "Adversity brings unity. Everybody has to saddle up to the challenge. Everybody's got to step up and get outside the box."

Nippert is unlikely to throw more than 75 pitches in Thursday's start, but the Rangers right now insist they are not calling up a pitcher for reinforcements. Guillermo Moscoso, who is scheduled to pitch for Oklahoma City on Thursday, and Pedro Strop have been called up earlier this season.

The Rangers will likely need starters next week for Tuesday and Wednesday against the Pirates. Hunter's spot is up on Tuesday. If Hunter is not ready, the Rangers could stick with Harrison or they could call up Doug Mathis from Oklahoma City. Mathis beat New Orleans, 4-1, on Wednesday with a seven-inning complete game, and he is 2-2 with a 4.24 ERA in six starts since being sent to Triple-A.

Moscoso is 3-2 with a 3.80 ERA in nine starts for Oklahoma City, and Michael Kirkman is 6-1 with a 3.11 ERA in 13 starts.

Holland and Harden are not immediate considerations. Harden, 3-3 with a 5.68 ERA in 13 starts, was placed on the DL just this week, and the Rangers want him to do more than just get healthy. They want him to work on getting his command back, and that mission could include at least a couple of starts at Oklahoma City.

Holland has been on the DL since June 1, and he is eligible to come off. But he's at the Spring Training complex in Arizona doing light bullpen work and is not ready to pitch in a Major League game.

The Rangers are hoping he might be ready for the June 29-July 1 three-game series against the Angels, but that is the best-case scenario.

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