The battle for the fifth starting spot in the Texas Rangers rotation is a point of interest during the early part of the 2013 Cactus League season. A number of players are competing for that slot and the race just became much more difficult to handicap following the injury to Martin Perez. The 21-year old rookie was positioning himself well prior to learning he would miss approximately two months due to a forearm fracture suffered during Sunday's game.
With an off day today, this seemed like a good time to break down the candidates and where they stand in their quest for that final starting spot.
RHP Cody Buckel: Buckel has not performed well in either of his two spring appearances. In both outings, he was scheduled to throw one inning, but couldn't get three outs either time. In one inning, Buckel has allowed seven runs, on four hits, with five walks and two hit batters. The 20-year old was named the organization's minor league pitcher of the year in 2012 but it appears he still needs more seasoning before making the jump to the big leagues.
RHP Justin Grimm: Grimm may knock himself out of contention early in the competition. The right-hander has been hit hard in both starts, allowing nine earned runs on 10 hits in 4.1 innings. Grimm has struggled to keep his pitches down in the zone, which may ultimately lead to his undoing unless he quickly resolves the issue.
RHP Kyle McClellan: As one of two contenders with more than two major league starts, McClellan had an experience advantage over most of his competitors. Unfortunately for him, McClellan is yet to see action in a game, as he has been sidelined with a sore shoulder in his throwing arm. The longer spring, Perez' injury and the fact a fifth starter isn't needed until later in April may give McClellan a chance to stay in the hunt if he can return soon.
LHP Martin Perez: The unofficial leader in the competition, Perez was impressive with the improvement he displayed before getting injured during his second spring appearance. The left-hander likely won't return until May, at which time another pitcher, within or outside of the organization, may have a firm grip on the job.
LHP Robbie Ross: All Ross does is exceed expectations. He did so last season when he made the Rangers squad out of training camp as a non-roster invitee and he is doing so again in his second attempt to nail down the fifth starter spot. Ross has pitched well as a starter in the minor leagues, but his success with Texas has been as a reliever. He may become a victim of his own success though, unless the Rangers are comfortable they have enough other arms to round out the bullpen behind closer Joe Nathan.
RHP Nick Tepesch: Tepesch is the Ross of 2013. He came into camp as an unknown, non-roster invitee and all he does is pitch well. The even-keeled 6-foot-4 right hander has shown poise during the two appearances of his first major league camp. In five innings, Tepesch has allowed one run on four hits with five strikeouts.
RHP Randy Wells: If experienced mattered, Wells would be a slam dunk for the role. The 30-year old has a career record of 28-32 with a 4.08 ERA in 86 MLB starts. Wells has displayed craftiness during his two starts, as he's allowed eight hits and a walk in four innings but has found a way to limit the damage by only allowing two earned runs. Smoother outings later in the spring, as well as his experience could nab Wells the starting gig. His next start is on Thursday.
Other: Recent reports state the Rangers may have interest in free-agent right-hander Kyle Lohse or the Tigers' Rick Porcello and adding one of them to the rotation. The Perez injury, along with the early struggles of No. 4 starter Alexi Ogando, who is making the transition from the pen this season, may fast track a phone call. Let's also not forget Colby Lewis who is recovering well from his midseason elbow surgery and could provide the answer if Texas decides to piece meal the starts until he returns.