SURPRISE, Ariz. — In addition to being an alleged race car driver, a dater of supermodels, able to pilot a 737 airliner and a world-class photographer, former Texas Rangers closer C.J. Wilson insisted that he could start.And in the spring of 2010, he proved it. Wilson pitched 25 innings that spring and allowed only 14 hits while striking out 22. He went on to start 33 games that season and won 15 of them. Alas, The Ceej is gone but the questions remain:Is there another C.J. in the house? Can another Rangers reliever successfully seize a starting rotation spot?One had probably better. With the season opener less than two weeks away, manager Ron Washington’s pitching rotation appears to be coming home on a wing and prayer. A whole novena of prayers, actually.As the Rangers head toward the final week of camp, relievers Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross both remain in contention for starting rotation spots. For better or worse, their lingering candidacies speak volumes.Had lefty Matt Harrison, trying to return following two back surgeries, not experienced an early camp setback, Washington’s No. 2 spot would already be settled. Likewise, had lefty Derek Holland not tripped over his dog, which led to microfracture knee surgery, that place in the rotation would be filled, too. Only Yu Darvish — who has far and away had his best camp in three seasons — Martin Perez and Alexi Ogando appear to be locks to start as Opening Day nears. “I guarantee you that we’ll have five when we leave here,” Washington said of his potential starters. It was Wash’s way of both avoiding the question and not wanting to admit that he doesn’t yet have any answers.Journeyman left-hander Joe Saunders, signed to a free-agent contract barely two weeks ago, seems a reasonable guess to start the fourth game of the season.Beyond that, Washington and his staff are waiting for somebody, anybody, to seize the opportunity, preferably in the style that C.J. did.“Totally different,” Washington said Tuesday, putting the two reliever-turned-starter cases into perspective. “They’re different animals.“I don’t think we’ll find another C.J. Wilson. No one ever questioned C.J.’s work ethic or his preparation. “This is new territory for them [Scheppers and Ross]. We just have to see how they react, how their bodies react, and how their minds can react to what it takes to be a starter.”Ask Scheppers whether he really, really wants to abandon the success he’s had as a setup man and become a starter, and he answers, “Sure, who wouldn’t?”Scheppers didn’t mention the obvious reason, but he knows that Wilson’s persistence eventually paid off in a five-year, $77.5 million free-agent contract. Starters fly 737s; setup men drive SUVs.“I just want to be in a role where I can help the team the most,” Scheppers said.Washington said he isn’t trying to question his young relievers’ motivations but, “I think they’ve got a different competitive spirit. C.J. thought he could play center field. He thought he could go up there and hit. That was his mindset, and that’s why he was able to pull it off.“It’s not that Scheppers and Ross aren’t tough competitors. They are, but it’s just in different ways.”Whereas Wilson logged 25 innings that spring, both Scheppers and Ross have only pitched 8 2/3 thus far. Both have pitched well, however, which is more than can be said for some of the others who are still contending for a rotation spot. In four spring innings, opponents are batting .444 against Colby Lewis. Saunders has given up 10 hits and five runs in seven innings. In nine innings, Michael Kirkman has walked eight and given up seven runs.If Scheppers — my educated guess — is the Rangers’ choice to make the opening rotation, the team doesn’t want to just rewrite his job description. They want Scheppers to show that he can pitch not like a No. 5 starter, but like a guy who can make an impact on the rotation. It doesn’t have to be quite the same way that C.J. Wilson did, dude. But if the new fifth starter owns a race car, let us know.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton