Five candidates vying for last spot in Rangers rotation

02/20/2013 10:53 PM

04/18/2013 7:29 PM

The alarm clock rings early during spring training, much earlier than many players are accustomed to and will become accustomed to during the regular season.

But the wake-up call can’t come soon enough for Randy Wells, who continues to set an alarm even though he’s out of bed before the clock goes off.

“I’m really having fun,” he said Wednesday. “I’m just anxious to get here.”

Wells has reasons to be upbeat, the primary one being a healthy right shoulder after an injury-plagued 2012 season in Chicago. But he also has his competitive juices flowing as one of five primary candidates vying to be the Texas Rangers’ fifth starter to open 2013.

Joining Wells are two other righties, Kyle McClellan and Justin Grimm, and left-handers Martin Perez and Robbie Ross in a race to fill out the rotation until Colby Lewis is healthy again.

The race is wide open, said manager Ron Washington, and any of the five could end up on the Opening Day roster. Ross gets the first shot Friday, working the third and fourth innings of the Rangers’ Cactus League opener.

“I’d love to win it,” said Ross, the breakthrough player of last year’s camp. “The best thing I can do is go out there, try to throw strikes, and do the best I can, and whatever happens happens.

“We’re all going to have to battle for it. We can’t put pressure on ourselves. That’s when it gets tougher. It needs to be enjoyable, and kind of soak stuff in and run with it.”

The candidates are taking the same approach of focusing only on themselves and not worrying about how their competition is performing. To do otherwise, as Ross suggested, would distract them from staying focused on the task at hand.

For the record, though, Wells, Ross and Perez worked scoreless innings Tuesday in the intrasquad game while Grimm was touched for five runs. McClellan didn’t work in the intrasquad games and is expected to debut this weekend.

Fortunately for Grimm, Washington said that poor early spring performances come with one mulligan as some pitchers are still trying to find their rhythm. But innings will become more scarce for the starting candidates deeper into the spring slate, so multiple slip-ups could result in a pink slip out of big league camp.

“This is probably the fifth time I’ve been in this position where you’re in a competition,” said Wells, who has 86 career starts. “You can’t worry about who’s involved in it or who’s doing what. When you start doing that, you start losing focus on what you need to do.”

Perez is the incumbent, though he didn’t do enough late last season to run unopposed this spring. The Venezuelan, still only 21, has been the Rangers’ top pitching prospect for the past four years, and he’s the pitcher the organization would like to see win the job.

But that doesn’t give him the advantage.

“I think the organization wants someone to step up and win the job,” Washington said. “He’s got to win the job. He’s got a chance to hold onto it, but I’m not going to hold onto it for him.”

Perez has matured as a pitcher, realizing that his 95 mph fastball isn’t as special as it was against Class A lineups. His Double A and Triple A stints have been bumpy at times, as was his Rangers debut last year, but he is wiser and motivated after tasting the big leagues.

He’s not interested in any more bus trips.

“When I came here, I said, ‘What is my goal?’ ” said Perez, who was 1-4 with a 5.45 ERA in 38 innings last year. “I want to stay in the big leagues. If I do my job, I’m good.”

That could well be the case, but on the eve of Cactus League games, there are four other viable candidates competing with Perez for the final spot in the Rangers’ season-opening rotation.

If nothing else, the Rangers know they will leave camp with quality depth in the minors should a starter go down with an injury.

“I think we’ve got some decisions to make,” Washington said. “I just hope they continue to excel. In time, it’ll work it’s way out.”

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