Texas Rangers

Ohlendorf still in Rangers’ rotation race despite early exit

Ross Ohlendorf pitched two strong innings Sunday, but had to leave early due to tightness in his right groin.
Ross Ohlendorf pitched two strong innings Sunday, but had to leave early due to tightness in his right groin. S-T

The dubious honor of being the latest Texas Rangers starting pitcher to leave a game early because of injury goes to Ross Ohlendorf, who had tossed two strong innings Sunday before feeling discomfort in his right groin.

He became the fourth starter this spring to exit before he should have, joining left-hander Ross Detwiler and fellow right-handers Yu Darvish and Anthony Ranaudo.

Everyone knows how badly one of those turned out, with Darvish in Florida for Tommy John surgery with Dr. James Andrews on Tuesday.

“I know Anthony and Ross are fine,” Ohlendorf said.

Indeed they are, with Ranaudo’s elbow problem from Thursday a non-issue — as he said it would be — and with Detwiler’s bruised right hand also not a concern. They won’t miss any time.

Ohlendorf doesn’t expect to miss much time either, which is vital as he continues to compete for a spot in the Rangers’ rotation.

The Austin native has pitched himself into the thick of the race, and while some might be surprised by his early performance, he said he has been trending the right way since 2013.

“I felt like two years ago I’d really started to learn some strengths of mine and started to develop my strengths,” Ohlendorf said. “I feel like I’ve continued to become a better pitcher.

“Some of that’s just experience and having more confidence in things, and also learning more about myself. I think my stuff’s been as good as it’s been, too.”

A cynic would argue that a pitcher who once went 1-11 and followed it up with consecutive seasons of 8.15 and 7.77 ERAs had nowhere to go but up.

Ohlendorf, though, made a dramatic jump in 2013 with Washington, going 4-1 with a 3.28 ERA over 60 1/3 innings. But a back strain kept him glued to the 60-day disabled list all of last season, and he was signed to a minor league deal in January.

The back was fine throughout the off-season, and the 32-year-old knew from his off-season work that his fastball would be good. It has been, but his slider has pleased him the most. It has helped contribute to nine strikeouts in four Cactus League innings.

Four of those came against the Brewers as he allowed just one unearned run, but he felt something amiss on his final pitch and decided while warming up before the third inning to remove himself from the game.

He did so knowing that time is not necessarily on his side as one of seven pitchers getting a look for the final spot in the rotation. Of course, continuing to pitch and making the injury worse would have him ticketed back to the DL.

“I might miss just a day; it’s not bad,” said Ohlendorf, who threw 36 pitches (23 strikes). “Whatever happens, happens. I can just pitch as well as I can. I can’t control everything.”

Aside from Darvish’s injury — a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow that has deflated outside expectations — and an ongoing shoulder saga for infielder Jurickson Profar, the Rangers’ medical woes this spring have been relatively minor.

Ranaudo said that his elbow discomfort is a normal spring thing ever since an injury at LSU, something that has the Rangers’ training staff mildly stumped. Detwiler will throw a bullpen session Monday after taking a liner off his non-throwing hand Friday.

Even the shoulder soreness experienced by lefty Derek Holland was minor, though he was knocked off course enough to take him out of consideration for the starting assignment on Opening Day.

But in the backlash of what happened to the Rangers last season, when each of the many injuries seemed to be a season-ender, it’s easy to hop aboard the oh-no-it’s-happening-again train.

“Everybody’s got to feel all they’ve got to feel,” manager Jeff Banister said. “It’s going to happen. It’s not avoidable.”

Ohlendorf couldn’t avoid it Sunday, but expects to be back quickly. The sooner the better, as his early performances have him in the thick of the race for the final spot in the rotation.

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST

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