Foul Territory

March 22, 2014

Rangers name Scheppers a starter, Soria their closer

Alexi Ogando will work as a primary setup man, and Neftali Feliz still must earn a spot on the Opening Day roster.

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The latest news and notes about the Texas Rangers

Tanner Scheppers has pulled off the same reliever-to-starter jump as C.J. Wilson four springs ago, though in much quieter fashion.

Alexi Ogando has twice made that jump, but once again he is headed back to the bullpen.

And Neftali Feliz seems to be headed nowhere.

Scheppers was informed Saturday morning that he has a spot in the Texas Rangers’ starting rotation, a decision that pushed Ogando into the setup role that Scheppers filled so well last season.

Ogando will pitch ahead of fellow right-hander Joakim Soria, who was named as the club’s closer. He beat out Feliz, who hasn’t shown the form necessary to work the ninth inning.

The Rangers say Feliz is still fighting for a roster spot as spring training enters its final week, a development that is as disappointing as it is surprising that Scheppers is in the rotation.

But Scheppers earned it.

“It’s everything I worked for,” said Scheppers, who is 1-1 with a 3.07 ERA and has limited opponents to a .208 batting average in 14 2/3 Cactus League innings. “There are a lot of people in giving me this opportunity. I’m extremely blessed and grateful.

“I’ll be prepared and ready for every one of my starts. I’ll put the work in that’s necessary in order to give the team a chance to win.”

Scheppers’ spring stats alone didn’t win him the job. The Rangers saw him seize the opportunity with an improved work ethic in the off-season and quickly adapt to the new role.

He has looked almost effortless on the mound, using a fastball that has sat in the mid-90s and two breaking pitches while working to improve his changeup.

Scheppers showcased the total package Friday against the Milwaukee Brewers, who scored two runs in the first inning before he recovered and allowed only two hits the rest of the way.

He touched 96 mph after his pitch count cleared 60 and a day later felt nothing out of the ordinary physically after becoming the first Rangers pitcher this spring to log six innings.

“He feels good about what happened yesterday in the game,” manager Ron Washington said. “That electric stuff I’ve been seeing, that plays for me. There’s competition going on out there. Scheppers won a spot.”

Robbie Ross, Joe Saunders, Tommy Hanson and Colby Lewis are still in the mix for the final two spots in the rotation. Ogando didn’t so much lose a spot — though his lackluster 6.35 ERA and .377 opponents batting average didn’t help — as the Rangers took it from him.

The Rangers weren’t confident that Ogando, who hit the disabled list three times in 2013, could stand up to the rigors of starting. Instead, he will share eighth-inning setup duties with left-hander Neal Cotts and will fill in at closer on days when Soria is unavailable.

General manager Jon Daniels said Ogando is a “unique weapon” capable of filling multiple bullpen roles.

“He wants to start, and he worked hard to prepare for it,” Daniels said. “When he’s started he’s been good. Our concern is more of the ability to go wire-to-wire without any physical issues in that role.”

The Rangers say Feliz is healthy 19 months removed from Tommy John surgery, but he hasn’t been able to replicate the velocity that he had prior to the 2012 elbow injury or what he showed over the off-season in the Dominican Winter League.

Feliz has topped out at 95 mph, but he could hit only 92 mph while allowing a run Friday. The hope is that eventually he can work back to that level.

“It’s in there,” Daniels said. “We’d like to see more of it and more consistency.”

Soria won’t light up the radar gun, but his command is back to where it was when he was a two-time All-Star closer with Kansas City. He also had Tommy John surgery in 2012 but is two years removed from the procedure.

He said his goal is to win a championship and that he would have been satisfied with any role. But he’s also happy to be back closing games.

“I’ll take it,” said Soria, who has 160 career saves. “I worked really hard in the off-season and feel really good. If they feel like I can help the team in the ninth inning, I’ll do my best.”

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