Nick Tepesch won the fifth spot in the Texas Rangers’ rotation last spring and is trying to do it again this year.
But he has been overshadowed by veterans in camp competing for the back-end rotation spots, namely Colby Lewis, Tommy Hanson and Joe Saunders.
Lewis showed signs of being his old self Sunday with two scoreless innings against the Mariners, while the 25-year-old right-handed Tepesch struggled.
But it’s too early to count anybody out. Tepesch made the fifth-most starts for the team last season and is certainly in the mix.
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“Nobody is under the radar in that clubhouse,” pitching coach Mike Maddux said. “Everybody is competing for opportunities to make the ballclub. Everybody is in that same boat.”
Tepesch had a rough outing in his second spring start. He gave up two runs on eight hits over two-plus innings, and his stat line could have been worse if not for a couple great throws from the outfield by Leonys Martin and Michael Choice to get runners out at the plate.
“Falling behind in the count a lot,” Tepesch said of his day. “It’s hard to pitch well when you fall behind like that. I think I might have been trying to do too much.”
Maddux wouldn’t argue Tepesch’s assessment. Tepesch is a groundball pitcher who relies on a sinking fastball, but most of the hard hits he allowed came on sliders and changeups.
“The ball was up and nobody really hit his go-to pitch today,” Maddux said. “We’ve got to pitch a little more to our strengths.
“He’s on a learning curve and I’ve said this before, experience is a tough teacher. You get the test first and the lesson later. We’ve really got to identify who he is.”
Tepesch put himself on the map last spring and found himself with a big league job once Martin Perez suffered a broken bone in his left forearm. And he got off to a strong start, going 2-1 with a 2.53 ERA in April before faltering.
Tepesch landed on the disabled list in early July with right elbow inflammation and didn’t return until September, making two relief appearances and one start. But his rookie season didn’t go unnoticed.
“He did a great job, especially in the American League,” catcher Geovany Soto said. “He behaved like a true veteran out there. He kept his composure, dealt with adversity and whenever he was getting in a tough time, he kept his cool. That’s good to see from a young guy.”
Said manager Ron Washington: “If Tep and [Justin] Grimm hadn’t come on the scene when we started losing people, I don’t know if we would’ve had the opportunity we had at the end of the season. They kept us afloat. Yes, the inexperience showed up through time, but he was able to compete there. I think it told him that he can compete at the major league level.”
One issue from last season, though, was Tepesch’s struggles the third time through against the lineup. He held opponents’ to a .213 average the first two times through but that climbed to .465 the third time through.
That’s why Tepesch spent much of this off-season and spring working on his changeup, which he hopes can keep hitters off-balance.
Tepesch threw a few changeups Sunday, but it remains a work in progress.
“It’s been good up to this point, but when you fall behind like that, you’ve got to go with what’s going to get you back in the count,” Tepesch said.