Nick Tepesch in line to be Texas Rangers’ fifth starter

03/22/2013 9:35 PM

03/24/2013 1:08 AM

So many players were in Texas Rangers camp at the start of workouts that the clubhouse staff was forced to erect six temporary lockers in the middle of the spacious room.

It’s not exactly Park Place, and the players who typically end up there are typically the first ones to be moved elsewhere when roster cuts become a necessity.

Nick Tepesch was on the island as one of six long shots to make the Rangers’ roster. He has since been moved to a permanent locker, and he has all but secured a locker at Rangers Ballpark to start the season.

The right-hander has a firm grasp on the fifth spot in the Rangers’ rotation. Only Derek Lowe or an unexpected development on the trade or free-agent markets could spoil Tepesch’s climb from Double A to the major leagues.

The Rangers haven’t announced him as the No. 5 starter, nor do they appear to be in any rush to do so, but two more candidates were eliminated from the competition Friday ahead of Tepesch’s latest spring start.

All signs were pointing to him opening 2013 in the Rangers’ rotation.

“He’s still here,” manager Ron Washington said. “It could go to the last day, but he’s still here right now. I’m not talking about the No. 5 starter until I’m ready to announce it, but he’s still fighting for the No. 5.”

Tepesch’s line Friday against Colorado wasn’t very pretty, as the Rockies got him for eight runs on 12 hits in five-plus innings. The good news is that Tepesch delivered 94 pitches, the most by a Rangers pitcher this spring, and he feels as if his curveball has started to come in.

He was also hampered by a couple of iffy defensive plays as well as a few weakly hit balls that were turned into hits by the tricky playing conditions in Arizona.

But Tepesch had trouble getting his fastball inside enough, and he walked the leadoff hitter to spark the Rockies’ three-run second inning. He brought on a lot of the trouble himself.

Nevertheless, he’s trying to block out thoughts of the competition and move forward after his third Cactus League start.

“I try not to think about that type of stuff and just do my job,” said Tepesch, who is 0-1 with a 6.50 ERA in 18 innings. “You learn from it. I was comfortable with all my pitches. I’m just going to go out there every day and do what I can do.”

Earlier Friday, right-handers Randy Wells and Justin Grimm were told they would be in Triple A to start the year. Grimm couldn’t find his footing early in camp, and Wells didn’t produce much of a wow factor despite his 86 career starts.

“Guys pitched well and made it competitive,” Wells said. “I just came up short. It’s never what you want to hear, but I’ve been around long enough. I know how the game works.”

Tepesch, 24, hasn’t blown anyone away with his stuff or a big arm. Instead, he has thrown all four of his pitches for strikes and has challenged hitters even when he has been hit around.

Pitching coach Mike Maddux has called Tepesch a flat-liner, because his heart rate stays the same regardless of the game situation. Tepesch hasn’t shown any signs of stage fright, despite spending 2012 at Class A Myrtle Beach and Double A Frisco.

“I’m not trying to freak myself out by any means,” said Tepesch, who was a combined 11-6 with a 3.67 ERA last year. “It’s baseball.”

Washington said that Derek Lowe will continue to get stretched out, but time isn’t on his side even though the Rangers won’t need their fifth starter until April 9. The Rangers are thinking that Lowe will be more of a swing man in the bullpen, in the same vein that Scott Feldman was in 2012.

The Rangers continue to look outside the organization, but as of Friday there wasn’t much progress toward a deal for Detroit righty Rick Porcello or free-agent righty Kyle Lohse.

That leaves Tepesch, who came to camp as a long shot but is racing down the stretch in the lead to be the No. 5 starter.

“When you come into a situation like this, you don’t want to set a limit for yourself. I didn’t set a limit and just tried to stay here as long as possible and learn as much as possible every day and get better every day.”

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