Mike Maddux: One rotation spot open

The Rangers’ rotation puzzle is pretty much down to a handful of options competing for one spot.

C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis are the only pitchers who have been officially guaranteed rotation spots, but it sounds like the Rangers have more or less settled on the Nos. 3 and 4 starters as well.

“Matt Harrison has had a great spring. He’s got to be right thick in the mix,” pitching coach Mike Maddux said on the Ben and Skin Show when asked how the rotation is shaping up. “Tommy Hunter has had one hiccup, but he had great stuff that day. Tommy might have a little lead on the other guys because of what he’s done in the past. He’s very deserving of being given that opportunity to be in the rotation.

“Then the other spot is going to come down to the last couple of weeks.”

Harrison, Hunter or whoever earns the fifth spot will likely be bumped from the rotation at some point early in the season. The Rangers haven’t put a timetable on former Cy Young winner Brandon Webb, but he’s progressing well after a two-year layoff due to arm injuries. Ron Washington has said it’s a matter of when, not if, Webb will join the Rangers’ rotation.

Harrison, a 25-year-old lefty, has a 1.00 ERA in nine Cactus League innings. He has a 16-10 record and 5.39 ERA while bouncing between the back of the rotation and the bullpen the last few seasons.

Hunter, a 24-year-old righty, has an 8.31 ERA this spring but owns the eighth highest winning percentage in the majors over the last two seasons among pitchers with at least 30 decisions (22-10, .688).

Maddux named six other candidates for the final rotation spot: lefties Derek Holland and Michael Kirkman and righties Dave Bush, Brett Tomko, Alexi Ogando and Neftali Feliz.

Feliz, who set a major league rookie record with 40 saves last season, is clearly the most talented of that crop. The question is whether it’s worth creating a hole at closer to fill a spot in the rotation this season.

“It’s going to come down to the team need on that one,” Maddux said. “It’s good to have those options. Do you want your best pitcher to start or do you want your best pitcher to close? We’re in a good spot with that.”