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Michael Kirkman could give club options

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Texas Rangers reliever Michael Kirkman may be out of minor league options, but he could give the club more options if he can seize a bullpen spot as expected.

Kirkman, 26, is the favorite to claim a left-handed job in the bullpen. Kirkman can pitch multiple innings and he has big league experience. But he's never been "the man," thanks to others earning those spots (it was Darren Oliver and then Robbie Ross).

"The past few years we’ve never really put him on the spot to be the primary guy down there," pitching coach Mike Maddux said, "but it’s time for Michael to do that."

If Kirkman can pitch to his capabilities, he would give the club some insurance and allow Ross to fully contend for the fifth starter job without the team feeling it can't give up his relief spot. With Ross' experience last year and desire to start, he's one of the favorites for that position.

Kirkman's chances of making the bullpen out of camp are very good, in large part because the organization won't want to risk losing him by trying to get him through waivers. He was 1-2 with a 3.82 ERA in 35 1/3 innings (28 appearances) with the Rangers and 5-1 with a 5.25 ERA in 48 innings in Triple-A Round Rock.

"I'm ready and I feel good about the opportunity," Kirkman said. "I've been working on a few things that I think will make me more consistent, and I was happy with my live BP (Wednesday). My slider was good and my changeup was good and I threw strikes down in the zone. That's all I can ask for."

Kirkman talked earlier this week about shortening his arm as he takes the ball back and the adjustments he's made. He also talked with Maddux about getting a chance at a bigger role.

"He’s a guy that was always the second lefty and it wasn’t that he didn’t deserve a better look or more climatic role, it was that somebody else was doing it at the time and they never faltered," said Maddux, who added that Kirkman has "one of the better left-handed arms in the major leagues." "This was his time. 'Here you go, Mike. We’re going to really count on you. Take the ball and run.' He was all for it."