Overhaul has Rangers feeling good about bullpen in '12

ARLINGTON -- In hindsight, Jon Daniels didn't think the Texas Rangers began last season with a strong bullpen. The close games that the team lost the first half of the season, Daniels said, were in part because of a poorly constructed relief corps.

"That was on us and how that was put together," Daniels said. "So we've taken different opportunities throughout the year to strengthen it."

The Rangers' bullpen on Opening Day this season has gone through a complete overhaul from last year. Only one pitcher, Mark Lowe, will have been in both Opening Day bullpens.

The Rangers signed closer Joe Nathan this off-season, moving Neftali Feliz to the rotation. They acquired Mike Adams and Koji Uehara at the trade deadline last season. Robbie Ross won the left-handed reliever spot in spring training. And Alexi Ogando, who began last season in the rotation, and Scott Feldman, who was on the disabled list, are in the seven-man bullpen.

Lowe and Uehara are the only two pitchers who don't have guaranteed spots, as Yoshinori Tateyama remains in the mix. However, Tateyama is expected to begin the season on the disabled list with a back injury.

"More than likely he will end up on the DL, but not 100 percent yet," Daniels said.

Either way, the Rangers have a much-improved bullpen. At least on paper.

Nathan and Adams are proven back-end pieces, while Ogando and Feldman thrived in relief roles last postseason. Ross had the lowest ERA of any Rangers pitcher in the Cactus League. Lowe and Uehara haven't pitched consistently but have had better outings of late.

Those seven relievers went into Tuesday's exhibition game against the Mexico City Red Devils with a 2.21 ERA since March 23.

"I think the bullpen looks great," Nathan said. "Obviously we've got to go out and do it now. Put zeroes on the board, and get it done however we can."

Said Adams: "I'm excited about our bullpen. A strong 'pen can shorten up games pretty quickly. There are a lot of games that are decided by a couple of runs, and the bullpen can close out those wins."

The importance of a dominant bullpen was never more evident than in last year's postseason. The Rangers and Cardinals had the two strongest relief corps throughout the playoffs and were the two teams to advance to the World Series.

That's one of the reasons the Rangers didn't hesitate moving Ogando and Feldman to relief roles. Each of them stretched out as a starter this spring, but there had been a set five-man rotation barring an unforeseen injury.

Even though Ogando and Feldman could start on most teams, Daniels said the Rangers didn't receive too many inquiring calls on their availability.

"I don't think that's a reflection on [the other teams], it's more of a reflection on us," Daniels said. "The other teams know how much we value these guys."

Manager Ron Washington likes how his bullpen has been constructed, as well.

It's a versatile unit with pitchers who can throw multiple innings -- Feldman, Ogando and Ross -- as well as proven arms at the back end in Nathan and Adams.

Washington also appreciates the attitude of the relievers, not making excuses for rough outings.

"When you talk to them when they're struggling, they admit they stunk," Washington said. "And the only way you can get better is to admit it. That's what they did. That's the character of those guys."

A new cast of characters in the Rangers' 'pen.

Drew Davison, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @drewdavison

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