The first significant injury of Texas Rangers spring training has thrown a wide-open competition to be the fifth member of the starting rotation into a free-for-all that ultimately could lead to a pitcher not currently in the organization.
Left-hander Martin Perez will miss at least the next two months with a broken left forearm after he was struck Sunday by a line drive during his outing against Seattle.
X-rays taken at a local hospital revealed a fracture of the ulna bone just above the wrist. Perez is expected to begin a throwing program in three to four weeks, and could need another four to six weeks until he is ready to pitch in a game.
Perez, the Rangers’ top pitching prospect, was the front-runner in a five-man race to fill out the rotation until Colby Lewis is ready to return in late May from a July operation to fix a torn flexor tendon.
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The battle is down to four internal candidates and could extend to free-agent right-hander Kyle Lohse.
As of Saturday afternoon, general manager Jon Daniels said that the Rangers were not engaged in any conversations about a starting pitcher. But he acknowledged late Sunday that he will look at who might be available.
“We’ll look around at external options, but I expect to go internally at this point,” Daniels said. “Knock on wood, but we hope to get both Colby and Martin back a month into the season, give or take.”
Perez needed only eight pitches in a perfect fifth inning, his first of a scheduled three, but walked the first two Mariners hitters on nine pitches in the sixth. After pitching coach Mike Maddux went to the mound for a visit, Perez threw a first-pitch fastball at 94 mph, and Mariners second baseman Brad Miller lined it up the middle.
The ball struck Perez and was eventually corralled by second baseman Yangervis Solarte.
“I really don’t know where the ball went,” manager Ron Washington said. “He was down on the ground, and I just ran after him. It got him pretty good.”
The Mariners ended up scoring one run that was charged to Perez, the only run he has allowed in three-plus Cactus League innings and a scoreless frame in the Rangers’ first intrasquad game.
“I feel for Martin,” Daniels said. “He looked like he was figuring some things out.”
The Rangers are now left to pick internally from left-hander Robbie Ross, a reliever last year, and right-handers Randy Wells, Justin Grimm and Kyle McClellan.
Ross has been the best of the group, allowing two runs in five Cactus League innings, and was groomed as a starter in the minor leagues before breaking through last spring as a bullpen piece.
Wells, the most experienced of the group with 86 career starts, has been mostly unimpressive through two Cactus League outings. Grimm, meanwhile, has been ineffective.
He allowed six runs in 2 1/3 innings Sunday, a performance in which he issued a pair of two-run homers. Grimm allowed three runs in his debut Feb. 25, and surrendered five in an intrasquad game.
But at least he and the three others are pitching in games. McClellan has been bothered by a sore shoulder and threw his first spring bullpen session in a week Sunday. He said there is still time to get stretched out enough to handle a starter’s workload.
Another possibility could be Nick Tepesch, who finished last year at Double A Frisco but has opened eyes after allowing one run in his first five spring innings. Washington, though, has been hesitant to call him a candidate.
Speculation in the immediate aftermath of Perez’s injury focused on the Rangers attempting to sign Lohse, who remains a free agent despite coming off the best season of his career.
To sign Lohse, who lives in Scottsdale, would cost the Rangers their first draft pick this year and the money assigned to it from their draft pool, not to mention a multiyear deal for more than $10 million a year.
The Rangers expect to have Lewis back by late May, possibly sooner, and would likely need no more than eight starts from the No. 5 starter before inserting their 2012 starter on Opening Day.
Adding Lohse would likely leave Alexi Ogando as the No. 5 starter.