Saunders joins competition for back of Rangers rotation

Posted Wednesday, Mar. 05, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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RHP Colby Lewis

Veteran who had consecutive 200-inning seasons during the Rangers’ World Series runs in 2010 and 2011. He is looking to come back from hip resurfacing surgery.

RHP Tommy Hanson

A once-promising Braves pitcher who has struggled the past two seasons. The Rangers are hoping he returns to his old form.

LHP Joe Saunders

An innings-eater who has had success in the American League West. He was an All-Star with the Angels in 2008, but is coming off his worst season.

RHP Nick Tepesch

Won the fifth spot out of camp last year and is seemingly flying under the radar once again. But he has looked good early on in camp.

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It’s becoming a more crowded competition for the Texas Rangers’ rotation, and that’s a good thing in the mind of Tommy Hanson.

Hanson isn’t too concerned about the list of rotation candidates growing in camp after the Rangers signed veteran left-hander Joe Saunders to a one-year deal Wednesday.

Saunders’ contract is partially guaranteed with a base salary of $500,000, the league minimum, which can escalate to $1.5 million plus incentives if he makes the 25-man roster.

Hanson is in camp on a non-guaranteed contract with a base salary of $500,000 that escalates to $2 million plus incentives if he breaks camp with the team. If the Rangers release him this spring, they’ll pay a $125,000 termination fee.

“Competition pushes people,” Hanson said. “I’ve just got to go out and worry about my stuff and try to make pitches. Whatever is going to be best for this team is going to happen. Hopefully I can go out and do my part and throw well. This is where I want to be and this is who I want to play for.”

Hanson had what he called a “so-so” outing Wednesday afternoon, allowing two runs over three innings with a fastball that sat in the 87-91 mph range. Both runs were scored in the first inning, including a solo homer by Charlie Culberson, but Hanson finished strong with an eight-pitch, 1-2-3 third inning.

Saunders already has thrown a few times for the Rangers this spring, but will get his first game action in a “B” game against the Royals on Friday.

The Rangers believe Saunders, 32, is still in the prime of his career and a starter who can accumulate innings. Saunders threw 183 innings for the Mariners last season, compiling an 11-16 record with 5.26 ERA, and had 200-inning seasons in 2010 and 2011.

“He makes every one of his starts and that’s what we needed right now,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “We need some stabilizing. He had a down year last year, but I think he’s motivated.”

Daniels said Saunders and Hanson are motivated to re-establish themselves as big-leaguers. Saunders was an All-Star in 2008; Hanson finished third in rookie of the year voting in 2009.

The biggest question surrounding Saunders is how he’ll handle Globe Life Park. He is 1-7 with an 8.58 ERA in his career at the Globe, although he threw 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball to lead the Baltimore Orioles to a victory over the Rangers in the wild-card round in 2012.

“I love the ballpark, it’s a great ballpark,” said Saunders, who has spent seven of his nine seasons in the American League West.

“[The numbers] were more a factor of the lineup than the ballpark. I faced that lineup a lot over the past years, so it’s nice to get on the good side of things now.”

Adrian Beltre is the most familiar with Saunders. The Rangers’ third baseman has faced him 44 times for a combined average of .275 with five RBIs, four walks and five strikeouts.

“He’s not going to overpower you, but he knows how to pitch,” Beltre said. “He works in and out, changes speed very well. He’s one of those guys year in and year out who does their job and has been pretty consistent being on the mound and being out there.”

That’s what the Rangers are looking for out of their starters and are keeping their options open for now beyond Saunders and Hanson.

Colby Lewis is trying to get back on a big-league mound for the first time since July 2012, Nick Tepesch is looking to break camp as the fifth starter for the second consecutive spring and relievers Robbie Ross, Michael Kirkman and Tanner Scheppers are being given a chance.

“I’m confident we’re going to put together a championship-caliber rotation out of this group,” Daniels said.

Drew Davison, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @drewdavison

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