Texas Rangers

Race for Texas Rangers’ fifth rotation spot starting to heat up

With three starts left to impress, Nick Martinez treating starts like regular season

Rangers right-hander Nick Martinez has three spring starts left to win a spot in the rotation, beginning Sunday (Video by Stefan Stevenson/Star-Telegram).
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Rangers right-hander Nick Martinez has three spring starts left to win a spot in the rotation, beginning Sunday (Video by Stefan Stevenson/Star-Telegram).

It’s getting down to the nitty-gritty for a few Texas Rangers pitchers this spring.

Chi Chi Gonzalez and Nick Martinez, two of the leading contenders to earn the fifth rotation spot, have just a few starts remaining to impress.

Gonzalez didn’t help his cause Saturday against the Diamondbacks, allowing seven runs on eight hits in 3  1/3 innings. Martinez was scheduled to pitch Sunday against the Angels.

The job is still up for grabs, though, with veterans A.J. Griffin and Jeremy Guthrie also vying for the spot. For Martinez and Gonzalez, good friends and roommates, the time is now. Rangers pitching coach Doug Brocail wants to see both pitchers show more consistency on the mound.

“We’re not these older guys who can come in and have a job and just need to get ready by April,” Martinez said. “I’ve made that clear to him, and I’m sure Chi Chi has, too. ... We both know we have to come in ready and fight for a job.”

Both right-handers have held that perspective since Day One of camp. Both have struggled at times this spring, with Gonzalez also allowing six runs Monday in a Triple A game. He was unhappy with his slider, which lacked the required bite for strikeouts.

Chi Chi Gonzalez allowed seven runs in 3 1/3 innings Saturday against the Diamondbacks in Scottsdale, Ariz. (Video by Stefan Stevenson/Star-Telegram).

“I had [Shin-Soo] Choo running everywhere out there,” Gonzalez said of his right fielder. “I’m still working on things, but, of course, you want a better [pitching] line.”

I was jamming a ton of guys, which was great, but I need some punchouts. I haven’t gotten any yet, and that would help me out a ton. I need to figure out what pitch to throw to get a strikeout.

Rangers right-hander Chi Chi Gonzalez

Martinez, meanwhile, has allowed nine earned runs in three appearances (7  2/3 innings).

But none of that will matter if either performs well in his last few outings. The focus from Brocail, among others, will sharpen, and the pitchers understand what’s at stake.

“We’re at that point now where they’re going to hear me say it’s time to pick up the pace,” Brocail said. “There’s no more of this getting in shape and finding your pitches. This is about competing and trying to win a job. It’s not that we’re trying to stack guys against each other, it’s that time of spring. Somebody has to step up because we need a fifth starter.”

Martinez is expected to throw four to five innings Sunday.

“I’m treating it like a season start. I’m trying to get these guys out and try to show I’m ready for the season,” he said. “I came in trying to fight for a job from the get-go. Obviously, I know I’m not going to win a spot in the very first bullpen or outing, but I still take that mentality that I have to show them that I’m ready.”

Darvish ready for 30

Rangers ace Yu Darvish is scheduled to increase his pitch count to 30 in his next bullpen session Monday morning.

Darvish looked “really good” during an 18-pitch session Saturday, Brocail said. Darvish was limited to 15 to 20 pitches because he was throwing on one day’s rest. He threw 25 pitches Thursday.

Yu Darvish is expected to throw 30-pitch bullpen session for the first time Monday. Pitching coach Doug Brocail wants 23-25 of those to be fastballs to help build strength in his arm.

“He threw all his pitches, [and threw] probably the best slider I’ve seen,” Brocail said. “His break on [the slider] two days ago was good but not near the zone. Today, it was extremely good and in the zone.”

Brocail originally scheduled Darvish to take two days off and increase his pitch count on Sunday. But Darvish wasn’t happy with his Thursday session, which followed three days off. He told Brocail he no longer wanted that many days off between sessions as the time off had him feeling lethargic on the mound.

Pitching coach Doug Brocail said Yu Darvish threw his best slider this spring during an 18-pitch bullpen session Saturday morning (Video by Stefan Stevenson/Star-Telegram).

“He wanted to throw because he felt a little choppy the other day. I don’t blame him for that,” he said. “Having the three days in between was a little too much for him.”

Brocail wants Darvish to focus on letting loose with his fastball Monday to help build strength in his arm. Brocail said Monday’s session will be “lengthy.” Darvish will face hitters once he hits 50-55 pitches, and he could reach that as early as March 27 or 28.

Briefly

▪ Right-hander Jeremy Guthrie is scheduled to pitch Monday, a day later than expected. Brocail said Guthrie was pushed back because of a backlog of starting pitchers needing innings.

▪ Reliever Luke Jackson is scheduled to throw off a full mound Tuesday for the first time since he was diagnosed with a stress reaction in his lower back March 2. He’ll throw off a half-mound Sunday.

▪ First baseman Ike Davis (mild knee sprain) said he’s feeling better and hopes to be cleared to play in a week. He last played March 8.

Stefan Stevenson: 817-390-7760, @StevensonFWST

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