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02/22/12 2:16 PM EST
Pitching depth gives Rangers plenty of options
Ogando one of six eyeing rotation, may return to bullpen
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rangers pitchers and catchers officially reported to Spring Training on Wednesday. Neftali Feliz showed up 100 percent committed to being a starter.
Alexi Ogando feels the same way.
"My mind is on starting," Ogando said.
The Rangers may have other plans. They may send Ogando back to the bullpen after signing Yu Darvish in the offseason and deciding to move Feliz into the rotation. That leaves the Rangers with six starters for five spots and somebody has to yield.
Ogando is likely to be the guy, but that's not a decision the Rangers are going to formally make before they've even had their first workout. There is going to be competition and nobody can afford to get too comfortable ... or hurt. The bottom line is the Rangers' rotation is not set just yet.
"It is competitive," pitcher Matt Harrison said. "I know nothing is set in stone. Everybody has to come in prepared. If you're not ready to go in Spring Training, you're not going to break camp. They're all about winning. We've been to two World Series and they want to go back. They'll take whoever is ready."
There is one pitcher who is not going to start. That is four-time All-Star reliever Joe Nathan. He was signed to be the closer, which means the club is fully committed to moving Feliz into the rotation.
The Rangers told him that in November and that is how he prepared this winter. This is different from last spring when Feliz was given an opportunity to start before the Rangers decided at the end of camp to keep him as their closer.
"It's a lot better knowing I don't have to worry about that," Feliz said. "It's a lot easier knowing I'm coming in as a starter. The hardest part will just be getting used to the innings and the higher pitch counts."
Feliz was a starter in the Minors. He was 10-6 with a 2.69 ERA in 27 starts and 127 innings in 2008. Those 127 innings remain a career high. He has not started in the Major Leagues but had 74 saves as a closer over the past two-plus seasons.
Everything he did this offseason was adjusted toward starting. He increased his weight training and running program to strengthen his legs. He is working on his slider and changeup so he doesn't have to rely completely on his fastball. He had dinner with three-time Cy Young Award-winner Pedro Martinez to get a better understanding of what it takes to be successful as a starter.
"He gave me a lot of good advice," Feliz said. "We talked about mental preparation and how not everything is going to be easy. Sometimes things are going to go wrong, so I have to keep my head up and keep after it."
Ogando made a successful transition from bullpen to starter last season. He was 13-8 with a 3.51 ERA during the regular season but was moved to the bullpen for the playoffs. He was terrific through the first two rounds, allowing just one run on four hits and two walks in 10 1/3 innings while striking out 12. But in the World Series, he pitched just 2 1/3 innings, allowing seven hits and seven walks over six appearances.
The memory of what he did in the first two rounds could stand out when it comes to time to decide who goes into the bullpen.
"I enjoyed that but I'm going to do whatever they want me to do," Ogando said. "Those are things I can't control. The only thing I can do is my best this spring. It's pretty clear all of that is out of my control."
Ogando was an All-Star as a starter in 2011 after going 9-3 with a 2.92 ERA in 17 starts. He slipped to 4-5 with a 4.48 ERA in the second half -- which is part of the reason why he ended up in the bullpen for the playoffs -- but Ogando still felt like he came to understand what it takes to be a successful starter in the big leagues.
"Physically, I know what it takes and I'm going to try and build on that this year," Ogando said.
He may not be able to do that pitching out of the bullpen. But there is a line waiting to get into the rotation. Scott Feldman, a 17-game winner in 2009, still wants to start but right now is seventh in line.
"I'm going to do as well as I can and whatever happens, happens," Feldman said. "They'll go with what's best to help us win."
Right now the only thing that is truly official is Colby Lewis will start the first Cactus League game on March 4 against the Royals. He is also expected to be the Opening Day starter against the White Sox.
There is also little doubt that Derek Holland and Darvish will follow Lewis in the rotation. Harrison should be the fourth starter unless he completely stumbles in camp and that leaves Feliz as the fifth starter. That's what Ogando and Feldman are up against.
One injury could open up a spot for Ogando and if multiple injuries occur, all the pre-camp speculation will go out the window. The Rangers know that possibility always exists and that's why they prefer to relish the depth that they have rather than start announcing rotation spots right now.
"We're going to let these guys pitch and at some point we'll have to make a decision," manager Ron Washington said. "But right now we're just going to let it play out."