It’s early in spring training, but Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington isn’t ready to give anyone a free pass. And that includes Alexi Ogando.
There are few questions regarding what Ogando is capable of. He’s been to the All-Star Game as a starter and emerged as a dominant, multi-inning reliever out of the bullpen. But his first two spring outings haven’t impressed his manager.
“Right now, he’s not where he should be,” Washington said. “The only way he’s going to get there is to get out there and compete. He’s a work in progress.”
At least Ogando took a small step forward on Wednesday afternoon against the Chicago White Sox in an 8-4 loss, although it would’ve been difficult to take a step back after his spring debut. Friday against the Kansas City Royals, Ogando allowed three runs over 1 1/3 innings as he struggled to find the strike zone.
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He didn’t get off to a much better start the second time around, but he pitched his scheduled two innings.
Ogando walked the leadoff batter, Alejandro De Aza, and three of the first four batters reached. But Ogando got out of a bases-loaded jam unscathed by inducing a double-play grounder from Paul Konerko.
Ogando was then charged with two unearned runs in the second inning on a sacrifice fly by Steve Tolleson and an RBI single by De Aza.
“I felt fine physically, I just don’t have the command I want to have,” Ogando said. “You hit bumps on the road sometimes, but by overcoming those bumps you get better. That’s where I’m at, and it’s going to get better from now on.”
The Rangers certainly hope so because Ogando has shown how effective he can be in a starting role. He moved into the rotation just days before the 2011 season began and made the All-Star team.
He went 9-3 with a 2.92 ERA over his first 17 starts, but faltered down the stretch. In the second half, he had a 4.48 ERA and moved into the bullpen for the postseason.
Ogando stayed in a relief role last season because that’s where the team felt he’d be most valuable. But he’s always wanted to start, and the Rangers gave him that opportunity again early this off-season.
“We’re going off what he did two years ago as a starter,” team president and CEO Nolan Ryan said. “You hope he’ll show the consistency that he had the first part of the  season and he’ll hold up over the course of the year. In that position, you’re going to expect him to accumulate innings.”
One of the keys for Ogando to improve is by implementing his third pitch, a changeup. He threw it only 4.3 percent of the time in 2011, and 1.7 percent last year.
Ogando has spent the early parts of spring training working on it, and knows a slow-down pitch will keep hitters off his fastball.
“It’s a key pitch for me to have to dominate the hitters,” Ogando said. “When I have my fastball [command], I have my changeup. But if I can’t locate my fastball well and don’t feel good with my fastball, my changeup doesn’t come easy.”
Left-hander Robbie Ross’s situation is similar to Ogando’s in terms of implementing a changeup.
Ross is fighting for the fifth spot in the rotation, and a third pitch is considered necessary for starters in the big leagues. Ross and Ogando have relied primarily on fastballs and sliders in their young careers.
“With the fastball and slider, everything we do is max-effort,” Ross said. “So the changeup requires work every day. Sometimes it feels good, sometimes it feels bad. But you’ve just got to work on it every day.”
Ogando is working on that, along with commanding his slider and fastball, particularly against left-handed batters. He knows he has work to do and believes it’s only a matter of time before the results show up in a game.
His manager will appreciate it when it happens, too.
Drew Davison, 817-390-7760