For starters, Texas Rangers look to fill fifth spot in rotation

ARLINGTON -- All signs point to an open competition for the fifth spot in the Texas Rangers' starting rotation during spring training.

"It's up for grabs," pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "There's really no telling who the forerunner is on it, but we do have some in-house candidates."

The leading internal candidates were on hand Friday and will be today for the team's pitching minicamp at Rangers Ballpark, where the younger pitchers in the organization go through on-field workouts, strength and conditioning exercises and classroom work.

And all of them -- namely Martin Perez, Justin Grimm and Robbie Ross -- understand the opportunity to become a member of the Opening Day rotation, even though it could be a temporary stay until Colby Lewis is fully recovered from right elbow surgery.

"This is a big year," Perez said. "They've told me it's an opportunity. I've got to do the job and see what happens."

Said Grimm: "A starting spot is the ultimate goal. That's what I'm prepared to go into spring to compete for."

Ross, who won a big-league job as a reliever last spring after spending his minor-league career as a starter, said he is excited about the opportunity to start again but knows it'll be a competition.

"Last year, I came in expecting to start at Double A or Triple A," Ross said. "So I am going with the same approach [this off-season] because it ended up being the best thing for me."

"Along with the homegrown internal candidates, general manager Jon Daniels said last week at Fan Fest that the team would explore other options, likely on minor league contracts. The team signed Kyle McClellan on Tuesday and intend to have him stretch out during spring training and be in the mix.

McClellan started 17 games for the Cardinals in 2011 but served in a relief role in 2012. The Rangers could add another pitcher with a similar résumé to McClellan, as it seems unlikely they will reach an agreement with a free agent starter, such as Kyle Lohse, who would preempt the competition."

Maddux expressed no concerns about having a competition for the fifth spot. He believes the internal candidates possess the ability to thrive in the rotation.

Perez, regarded as the team's top pitching prospect, finished last season as the Rangers' fifth starter.

But Perez struggled in his final three starts, lasting four innings twice and only two-thirds of an inning, in the other.

"I think as time wore on, his inexperience showed up and his youth showed up," Maddux said. "Everybody goes through it. It's how you grow from it. He's very capable of doing that hard work, and he has the stuff to compete for -- and win -- that fifth spot."

Perez said he's spent most of the off-season working on his changeup, and building his lower-body strength.

Grimm also spent his winter working out. He's added about 10 pounds this off-season, and is refining his two-seam fastball and slider.

Grimm was called up last June and won his debut against Houston. He struggled in his next start against Detroit, and was eventually sent back to the minors. Grimm was called back up in September, finishing the season in the Rangers' bullpen.

Grimm's goal is to start, but he is also open to the idea of being the long man in the bullpen and filling the role left by Scott Feldman.

"Attitude-wise, he profiles that way [as a reliever]," Maddux said. "But there are a lot of guys out there who carry that attitude for nine innings, and he could be one of those guys, too."

For Ross, starting would be a transition back to a familiar routine. He posted a 2.88 ERA in 68 starts and one relief appearance in three minor league seasons before moving into a relief role.

"He's never started at the major league level, so regardless of what you've done in the past, you haven't done it in the big leagues," Maddux said. "So there will be a learning curve."

Drew Davison, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @drewdavison

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