June 8, 2012

Ross stays put in Texas Rangers' bullpen

Rangers won't mess with success of rookie reliever Robbie Ross.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Cowboy Robbie Ross suits up before each game and heads to the bullpen with his vest, sheriff's star, straw hat and toy shotgun -- much to the delight of everyone watching.

That includes his Texas Rangers teammates and, at home games, Rangers Ballpark sound man Chuck Morgan, who plays a country song as Ross makes his walk.

Ross also has mistakenly worn the wrong jersey during a game, competed in a cow-milking competition, and lost a leg on a pair of jeans because of a little tardiness.

But the toll the rookie is paying for being a rookie shouldn't be the reason he's receiving so much attention.

Ross has been good through his first two months in the major leagues. Darn good. So good that the Rangers don't want to disrupt the ride with a few spot starts, or attempt to make due without him in their bullpen.

That's no joke.

"He's been huge," veteran closer Joe Nathan said. "That's why when people say, 'Should he go to the rotation?' Well, no. You're nuts.

"He's so valuable where he is now. How are you going to pull a guy who's 5-0, doing everything asked of him in the 'pen?"

The Rangers couldn't agree more, and that's why he will be a reliever today and Sunday when Scott Feldman and Alexi Ogando make starts as the Rangers wrap up a 10-game road trip.

The Rangers and Giants played a late game Friday at AT&T Park, a place where the Rangers had never won in 11 tries entering a three-game rematch of the 2010 World Series.

Ross said he would have started had the Rangers asked, just as he would probably jump into McCovey Cove if manager Ron Washington were to ask.

But Ross was discussed for a spot start for this weekend as the Rangers juggled in the ineffectiveness of Scott Feldman and the loss of Derek Holland all while waiting for Roy Oswalt to get major-league ready.

"We didn't want to do that to him," Washington said.

Ultimately, Ross wants to start. He was a starter in high school and the minors, and expected to be pitching every fifth day somewhere in the Rangers' system this year before dazzling in spring training and filling a need for a left-handed reliever.

Thirty big-league innings later, Ross had a 1.50 ERA entering the opener against the Giants. That was eighth-best among AL relievers, and his five victories led all major league relievers.

He has surpassed his own preseason expectations.

"You just hope for the best, and if it happens, it happens," Ross said. "At the same time, it can change at any point. You just have to battle to do well.

"It's been great just to get to learn things from these guys. Every time I pitch I go through something new, like how to pitch in a certain situation. That's the biggest thing, learning those little things."

That includes how to be a major leaguer, which is why the bullpen veterans have been so hard on Ross (5-0). But he has impressed them with a level of composure beyond the typical rookie.

He attacks each hitter he faces, though he doesn't have an overpowering fastball or a filthy off-speed pitch. But every pitch he throws cuts in on a right-handed hitter, and batters have trouble squaring up his pitches.

Ross, who hadn't pitched above Double A, was put to the test early in the season at Minnesota. The bases were loaded with two outs, but he calmly got former MVP Justin Morneau to end the inning.

"You always hear pitching coaches and managers harp on the importance of keeping your composure," Nathan said. "Sometimes that stuff can't be taught. But I think Robbie's probably always had it, and that's helped him."

And that's no joke.

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST

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