LHP relief spot: Robbie Ross vs. Neal Cotts

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Texas Rangers optioned or sent five players to Triple-A on Saturday, including left-handed pitcher Michael Kirkman.

That leaves 22-year-old Robbie Ross and veteran Neal Cotts, who came to camp on a minor league deal after dealing with injuries the past few years, as the final two left-handed relievers left in camp. The club hasn't decided if they will carry a left-handed pitcher (though it seems likely they will), but if they do, one of those two will get it.

Manager Ron Washington said the club has talked about whether having Ross in the bullpen would hurt his development and they don't believe it would, noting other pitchers have done the same. That's why Ross is still here, vying for a spot.

Kirkman came into camp as the favorite for the job, but Washington said that "as of right now, the other two lefties pitched better."

"We still have high hopes for Kirkman," Washington said. "We hope he'll go to Round Rock and start getting his innings in and start competing and if something happens, we certainly know where he is and what he's capable of doing. But I think he improved a heck of a lot, but the other lefties as of right now have done a little bit better."

Ross, 22, pitched most of last season with Class A Myrtle Beach and was impressive, posting a 2.26 ERA in 123 1/3 innings as a starter (20 starts). He was promoted to Double-A Frisco, where he had a 2.61 ERA in six starts (38 innings) with 36 strikeouts and five walks.

Cotts, 31, hasn't pitched in a big league game in 2009. He had Tommy John surgery in July 2009 and missed all of 2010. He then had surgery to repair a torn labrum in early 2010 and deal with an infection that required three additional surgeries.

Now he's in Rangers camp and looks more like the pitcher that helped the Chicago White Sox bullpen in 2005, when the club won the World Series.

"He came in and his arm is healthy, his hip definitely must be healthy because the ball is coming out well," Washington said. "The more opportunity he got, the better he got. He has experience. He's been in the World Series before and he's pitched well enough to still be in the running."

Ross has impressed with his cutter and his ability to get some good hitters out. He hasn't seemed in awe of where he is and has just gone out and pitched.

More on Ross on the blog Sunday morning.

Other notes:

* The Rangers sent or optioned to Triple-A: Luis Martinez, Dusty Brown, Greg Reynolds, Tanner Scheppers and Kirkman. That leaves 29 on the roster.

* Mike Adams pitched in a minor league intrasquad game on Saturday morning and allowed no runs on no hits with a walk and two strikeouts in is lone inning of work. It was his second-straight day to pitch. One of his outs was on a caught stealing.

* Reynolds is expected to join the Round Rock rotation. Washington said Reynolds improved as the spring went along after some work with pitching coach Mike Maddux and bullpen coach Andy Hawkins and he's pleased with what he saw.