The battle for the Texas Rangers’ fifth starting spot in the rotation is down to three. Right-hander Chi Chi Gonzalez was optioned Friday to Triple A Round Rock, and Nick Tepesch was assigned to minor league camp.
Gonzalez, who made his major league debut in 2015, was one of several favorites to win the job. His last start was impressive (five scoreless innings Thursday), but he’ll start the season with the Express.
How he threw Thursday is “where Chi Chi needs to be consistently,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. “The ability to throw strikes at the lower part of the strike zone. I felt like the slider and curveball were sharper [Thursday]. The tempo by which he pitched was outstanding.”
Banister said moving Gonzalez down is more about his long-term prospects of being a stable member of the rotation. He added that Gonzalez, 23, still has more development to go through.
“This is not about just being the fifth starter, it’s about being one of the starters,” Banister said. “This is an opportunity for him to continue to work and be ready when he’s needed. I think Chi Chi understands that. He’s going to pitch some significant innings for us this year at some point, so it’s best he go get ready and be the guy when we need him.”
Tepesch, who was sidelined by injuries in 2015, has struggled for much of camp. He threw two scoreless innings in his first outing and allowed a solo homer in three innings March 11, but his last two appearances were rough. He gave up 10 combined runs on 14 hits over four innings in his last two appearances, including six earned runs on seven hits and a walk in 1 2/3 innings Tuesday.
The leading candidates for the fifth spot, which will last until Yu Darvish returns to the rotation in mid-to-late May, are right-handers A.J. Griffin, Jeremy Guthrie and Nick Martinez.
Griffin looked sharp in five innings Thursday night, allowing one solo homer. Martinez has allowed 11 earned runs in 11 2/3 innings this spring, including two on seven hits in four innings Sunday. He’s scheduled to pitch again Saturday. Guthrie has allowed four runs in seven innings this spring. He has been limited with back soreness.
Ryan Rua is close to locking down a roster spot and it’s not only because of his scorching-hot bat this spring.
Rua is the best defensive option at first base behind starter Mitch Moreland, Banister said. Plus, Rua could be used at a corner outfield spot and, in a pinch, at third and second base.
That versatility makes Rua, who was the Opening Day left-fielder last season, a leg up on the competition.
Rua started at first in Thursday night’s game against the A’s and started a smooth 3-6-1 double play.
Banister challenged Rua at the beginning of camp to play loose and “not so methodical.”
“We’ve seen a transformation of a guy who is more confident, more aggressive, which translates into a much cleaner look in the outfield,” Banister said.
Although there’s no starting position available at the moment, at least Rua appears to be a lock for a bench role.
Outfielder Justin Ruggiano has gone though multiple phases in spring training. He hopes his two-homer game Thursday is the beginning of a final week he can ride onto the Opening Day roster.
“Right now, I’m in that tidying-it-up phase and getting a little bit more consistent,” he said. “Yeah, it’s nice to have [success] one day, but the goal is to be able to expand that over a couple days and really ride out this last week with quality at-bats.”
Ruggiano had two hits, including a double, in the spring opener but went hitless in his next six games. Lately, however, the hits have been falling. He had five hits in his past five games going into Friday night’s game.
“I’ve been seeing the ball well. It’s a matter of attacking,” he said. “This is a typical spring for me.”
Shawn Tolleson, Jake Diekman and Sam Dyson all threw an inning in a Triple A game Friday afternoon. Tolleson threw a perfect, eight-pitch inning with a strikeout. Diekman allowed a hit with a strikeout in a scoreless inning. Dyson allowed a run on two hits with two strikeouts in one inning.
▪ Outfielder Delinno DeShields, who has had right biceps tightness, went 2 for 4 with a walk, stolen base and caught stealing in the Triple A game Friday.