LHP Neal Cotts getting second chance

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Neal Cotts figured his baseball career was over.

The 31-year-old left-handed pitcher was busy trying to finish up his final year at Illinois State to earn his degree in finance. After that, he wasn’t sure what kind of business he was going to get into.

“After you hear no quite a few times, eventually you have to do something,” Cotts said.

Cotts had Tommy John surgery July 2, 2009 and missed all of 2010. But his medical issues continued. He had surgery to repair a torn labrum in early 2010 and developed an infection. It took three additional surgeries to get that taken care of.

“That’s why no one wanted to offer me a contract,” Cotts said.

But after the Rangers saw Cotts throw a bullpen session a few weeks before spring training, they decided to give him a chance and add to their list of candidates for a left-handed bullpen spot. He signed a nonroster deal and started camp in the minor league clubhouse. On Monday, the Rangers moved his things to the major league side of the Surprise complex, just a few locker spots down from closer Joe Nathan.

Cotts has thrown the ball well in bullpen sessions, pitched a scoreless inning in the intrasquad game and then pitched in his first Cactus League game Monday. He gave up four hits and two runs, but had two strikeouts and did pitch better against the left-handers he faced. Still, Cotts is happy to be given another chance and knows he must try to make the most of the opportunity the next few weeks.

“To be honest with you, before they called I wasn’t even really preparing to go into spring,” Cotts said. “I hadn’t gotten a lot of calls before these guys invited me.”

Cotts has taken advantage of the opportunity. He’s throwing strikes with all of his pitches -- fastball, cutter, slider, change -- and is now the only player in the Rangers’ clubhouse with a World Series championship ring.

Cotts was a valuable member of the 2005 Chicago White Sox, who swept the Houston Astros to win the title.

“It’s a good opportunity to get back into the swing of things,” Cotts said. “I feel like I can pitch. I don’t know what level yet, but over the last two years I felt like I could get back out there.”