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03/12/12 3:04 PM EST

Early results encouraging on Borbon, Kirkman

Duo entered Spring Training on bubble for big league jobs

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Outfielder Julio Borbon and left-handed reliever Michael Kirkman, both left behind during the Rangers' playoff run last year, came to camp trying to reestablish themselves and win spots on the Opening Day roster.

They haven't won anything yet, but they are making their presence felt by being two of the more impressive players so far this spring. Borbon has played the best so far among the center-field candidates and Kirkman is pushing ahead as the favorite to be the left-handed setup reliever in the bullpen.

Borbon, who was the Rangers' Opening Day center fielder the past two years, is 4-for-11 in his first six games of the Cactus League after going 4-for-8 in the two intrasquad games.

"I've been on a mission," Borbon said. "That's been my mindset I've had from last season after I got back on my feet. What people are seeing is what I was determined to do when I got back on my feet. I was determined to get back to my own self. I'm just playing Borbon baseball. If I do that, it will take care of itself."

Borbon's 2011 season was cut short by injury. He suffered a strained left hamstring on May 13, was placed on the disabled list and never played for the Rangers the rest of the season. They optioned him to Triple-A at the end of May, when the hamstring was healed, because Endy Chavez was playing so well at the Major League level. Borbon then tore a ligament in his left ankle on July 8 at Triple-A Round Rock and required season-ending surgery.

Craig Gentry, Josh Hamilton and Chavez shared center-field duties the rest of the season and through the playoffs. But with Chavez now gone and the Rangers determined to keep Hamilton in left as much as possible, manager Ron Washington declared center field open coming into Spring Training.

Gentry and Borbon are the prime candidates for the job, with rookie Leonys Martin in the mix. Gentry was 0-for-11 going into Monday's game and has been bothered by a tight left hamstring.

Martin, who was signed by the Rangers last May out of Cuba, was in center field on Monday, his first start of the spring. The Rangers have been impressed with his bat, but he shows his inexperience on the basepaths and in the field. The Rangers are still going to look at him but it's almost certain that he will start the season at Triple-A Round Rock.

"We're going to get him out there," Washington said about starting Martin on Monday against the Mariners. "The kid can swing the bat and do some things."

But Borbon has had a strong start at a time when he needed to do just that.

"He's playing his tail off," Washington said.

Kirkman, who also needed to get off to a good start this spring, was impressive on Sunday, pitching a scoreless ninth inning in the Rangers' 6-1 victory against the Indians. He retired all three batters he faced and all were right-handers.

That is significant. The Rangers, when evaluating their left-handed relief options, see Kirkman with the kind of ability that can get both right- and left-handed hitters out. In his 29 Major League appearances over the past two years, right-handed hitters are batting .222 off him while left-handers are hitting .214.

"I just need to get outs," Kirkman said. "It doesn't matter if it's left or right, I've just to get outs. If I keep throwing the way I've been throwing this spring, I will get outs."

He has allowed nine hits in five innings this spring but has walked just one batter. During his career he has averaged 4.77 walks per nine combined at both the Major and Minor League level and his command was erratic all of last season. Kirkman had a 2.93 ERA in 2010 between Triple A and the Major Leagues but that shot up to 5.47 last year at the two levels as he struggled with his command.

"I told him don't worry about the hits," Washington said. "That can be fixed here in Spring Training. What I like is he's not all over the place."

He still has stiff competition for the left-handed relief job against veterans Mitch Stetter, Joe Beimel and Neal Cotts. But those three are viewed more as left-handed specialists. Kirkman has a chance to be more than that, and that's why the Rangers are encouraged by what they have seen so far this spring.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.