SPRING TRAINING UPDATE

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

STARTING PITCHING: Colby Lewis threw four perfect innings Saturday against the White Sox. He was originally scheduled to go three, but his pitch count was so low, that he went back out for another inning. He completed the outing in 36 pitches, yet still struck out five of the 12 batters he faced. Lewis had been shaky in his first outing, so Saturday’s turnaround was even more welcome news.

Neftali Feliz had the poorest outing during the first round of starts, giving up three runs on an Adam Dunn home run after facing four batters. The home run, along with the single and double that preceded it, were hard hit balls. He did settle down to get the final two outs of the inning and pitched a nice second inning.

On Sunday, Derek Holland made his second appearance tossing three innings and allowing an earned run on three hits. He struck out four and threw 40 pitches, 25 for strikes. He has now pitched five innings in his two spring starts and has allowed two earned runs.

Most in the media have already assigned Scott Feldman (long man) and Alexi Ogando (eighth inning set up man) to the bullpen, but both report that no one with the Rangers has told them they are not competing to be in the rotation. Feldman followed Lewis on Saturday with three scoreless innings to go with the two scoreless innings he pitched in his first appearance. Ogando threw three innings Sunday in a B game against Kansas City, who had a lineup loaded with regulars. He gave up three hits and an earned run to go with two scoreless innings in his first outing. Both seem intent on putting the pressure on the Rangers to make them starters.

LEFT HANDED RELIEVER: No one has stepped up to claim the job yet. It is of course early as the team is embarking on just the second week of games, but Michael Kirkman, who was considered the favorite when spring training began, has been awful in two appearances. He’s allowed six earned runs on nine hits in four innings. Joe Beimel was slowed with elbow stiffness, so is behind in his conditioning. He has appeared in two games and thrown a scoreless inning in each appearance. Neil Cotts was signed to a minor league contract without an invitation to spring training. He has not appeared in the majors since 2009, but was so impressive in early throwing sessions, that he is now in camp and is considered a viable candidate for the job. He has allowed two earned runs in three game appearances (three innings) since moving over to the major league camp. Mitch Stetter, a non-roster invitee, allowed two earned runs in his first appearance, but threw a perfect three up three down inning Sunday with one strikeout. One other candidate has perhaps emerged – Robbie Ross. Ross is rated as the Rangers fifth best prospect. He has been groomed as a starter and was the Pitcher of the Year last season in the Carolina League (A) which earned a promotion to AA Frisco for six starts at season’s end. He has made three scoreless appearances and is now getting consideration for the bullpen.

CENTER FIELD: Craig Gentry was considered to be part of the center field solution, and may still be, but he is hitless in his first 11 at bats, and came out of Saturday’s game with a possible hamstring problem. Earlier in the week, manager Ron Washington eliminated Leonys Martin from the competition, telling reporters that he wants Martin to spend the season at AAA. Julio Borbon had three hits in his first nine at-bats (.333), and assistant general manager Thad Levine said on ESPN radio Saturday that his winter ball play has really helped. Borbon started 2011 as the Rangers centerfielder, was demoted to AAA, where he didn’t hit well. His season ended in late July with an injury. Levine feels like his confidence is the biggest difference in his play this spring. Washington has trumpeted Josh Hamilton as the best centerfielder on the team, leading to speculation that one prominent defensive lineup could have Hamilton in center with David Murphy in left. Brad Hawpe and Conor Jackson are not center fielders, but their chances of making the opening day roster could hinge on what is decided in center field. Hawpe has been slowed by a hamstring problem. Jackson is just 1-7 and is now out for a few days after catching a ball in his face that required five stitches.

INJURIES: Mike Adams (hernia) is coming around. He was not throwing off a mound when spring training began and has appeared in just one game, throwing a scoreless inning. Mike Napoli has caught on a normal schedule without serious repercussions to his ankle sprain suffered in game six of the World Series. However on Saturday he was scratched from a start at designated hitter with a left groin problem, and was scratched again Sunday from a scheduled start at catcher. Ian Kinsler missed his second straight game Sunday when he was a late scratch with a back problem. He was not scheduled to play Saturday.

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