Deep field hoping to earn spots in Texas Rangers’ bullpen

02/24/2013 1:24 AM

11/12/2014 2:43 PM

Free space isn’t as easy to find this spring in the Texas Rangers’ clubhouse, a byproduct of having 63 players in camp.

Most of the them are pitchers, and most of the pitchers are relievers. Most of the relievers — the vast majority, actually — don’t know where they’ll be March 31, when the Rangers open the 2013 season.

There are bullpen jobs to be had this spring, and there is no shortage of talented arms trying to grab a spot.

Some club officials believe the field of relievers is so deep that 10 to 12 candidates will have made a strong enough case to be on the Opening Day roster. Only seven will go to Houston, and Joe Nathan and Jason Frasor already have a seat on the charter.

The competition is under way for the five remaining spots.

Among the contenders are the major-leaguer received in the Michael Young trade, a former National League All-Star, a Rule 5 selection and a right-hander who threw the fourth-fewest fastballs in the game last year.

A handful are power arms, and another group throws from unconventional arm slots.

Some of those who finished last season with bullpen jobs are expected to be back, but some will have to show that they belong.

“We’ll take guys that get people out, whether they throw right-handed, left-handed, over the top or from underneath,” pitching coach Mike Maddux said.

“To say somebody is far better than the next guy, I don’t see that. The guys who perform the best are going to have the better opportunity, but there are a lot of numbers in that mix.”

Maddux, when addressing the media after all pitchers had thrown a bullpen session or live batting practice one time, said that Tanner Scheppers and Michael Kirkman are front-runners to make the roster. So is Robbie Ross, if he doesn’t win the fight to be the No. 5 starter.

The reliever who has made the biggest splash so far is Cory Burns, acquired in a minor off-season trade with San Diego. Only 31.7 percent of his pitches were fastballs last year, and he threw his changeup 63.1 percent of the time.

He turns his back to the hitters during his delivery. But manager Ron Washington said that the right-hander has been effective this spring.

Burns said he isn’t anti-fastball at all, and would have thrown more of them if not for a painful wart on the tip of his index finger. But he also knows what he has to do to be successful and is committed to it.

“Nowadays a hard fastball is 95 or 98, whatever it is, but there are a lot of guys that do without that,” said Burns, who worked a 1-2-3 inning Friday in the Cactus League opener. “If you can put the ball where you want, it doesn’t matter what you throw. I’ve come to the conclusion that you don’t need to throw harder but need to put the ball where you want to and where it’s supposed to go.”

Josh Lindblom, a power pitcher, has the opposite style of Burns, yet is in the same position. Though he spent all of 2012 on a big-league roster, first with the LA Dodgers and then Philadelphia, he knows he must win a roster spot.

He will work his first Cactus League inning today against Kansas City.

“There’s a lot of competition in this camp,” said Lindblom, part of the Young trade in December. “I’m not a veteran by any means. At this point it’s about going out and getting better and competing for a job. When you have that competition, it elevates your style of play.”

Coty Woods, the side-arming Rule 5 selection with no big-league experience, and Nate Robertson, a 35-year-old former starter trying to reinvent himself as a side-arming reliever, epitomize the variety of pitchers the Rangers have to offer this spring.

The hard-throwing Evan Meek was an All-Star in 2010 for Pittsburgh. Kyle McClellan, who will also get a shot at the rotation, was a valuable bullpen piece for St. Louis in 2009 and 2010.

“We have smorgasbord of looks,” Maddux said.

There are others of varying experience levels and throwing styles. Five of the them will be at Minute Maid Park, along with Nathan and Frasor, as members of the Rangers’ bullpen on Opening Day.

The competition is under way.

“It’s a big group,” said Nathan, the club’s incumbent closer. “Until you get them into a game, you can’t really see what kind of stuff they’ve got and what they’re bringing up there. The game’s are getting going now. We’ll see a lot more from them.”

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