PEORIA, Ariz. -- Michael Kirkman is making an emergency start on Sunday in a split-squad game against the Seattle Mariners at the Peoria Sports Complex at 3:05 p.m. CT. RHP Kyle McClellan was originally scheduled to make his second start of the spring today. He was scratched on Saturday when the team announced he was diagnosed with a strained lat muscle. The typical recovery is 3-4 weeks, at which time he can begin a throwing program.
Even though Kirkman is starting today, he is a reliever and is expected to take on greater responsibility this season with seven of the eight bullpen roles still undetermined. Coincidentally, Kirkman has primarily been a starter in the minors, including making eight starts for Triple-A Round Rock in 2012.
Regarding the bullpen, Joe Nathan as closer is the only slot manager Ron Washington has been willing to define thus far.
Newcomer Jason Frasor seems like the eighth-inning guy since he has filled that role for much of his career.
Beyond that, everything in the bullpen is up for grabs. Kirkman's role is among those still being defined.
"I don't see myself as anything right now," Kirkman said of his bullpen role. "I think I can go in there and get any lefty out, but I think I can go out there and pitch three or four innings, too. Whatever [Washington] needs that night, I feel I can go out there and do it."
The 26-year old split time between the minors and Texas the past three seasons, but that trend is probably over considering his spring performance to date. He also pitched well toward the end of last season when he made 28 appearances with Texas, posting a respectable 3.82 ERA and striking out 38 in 35.1 innings. In four spring games, Kirkman has allowed just three hits in six scoreless innings with six strikeouts.
"Toward the end of last year, I've seen him hone in and become a little more consistent," Washington said. "This spring, he's been a lot more consistent, and that's what you look for. We always knew he had the stuff. It was just a matter of him becoming more consistent, and he's certainly doing that right now."
Punchouts haven't been a problem for Kirkman, as he's struck out approximately one batter per inning throughout his career. Walks, on the other hand, have been a bit of an issue. His walk total has gradually creeped up each season, including in 2012 when he walked a combined 48 batters in 83.1 innings between Triple-A and Texas. While opponents own a .202 batting average in his 57 career major-league appearances, he also averaged 4.4 walks per nine innings during those contests.
An offseason conversation with pitching coach Mike Maddux seems to have fixed that problem, though, as Kirkman has not walked a man this spring and has shown great improvement in his command.
"I tried to stop jumping at the plate. I worked on my mechanics, and it is really working out for me," Kirkman said. "That was something Mike Maddux called me about this offseason. He was watching some video after the playoffs, and that was one of the things he saw, that we could bear down and clean up a little bit. Now, I'm throwing more strikes."
Kirkman's bullpen role will ultimate depend on the performance from a deep group of candidates during the final two weeks of spring training as well as the decision for who will fill the open the fifth starter slot.
In addition to the aforementioned bullpen arms, Texas has also had strong performances from lefties Nate Robertson and Joe Ortiz. Derek Lowe was signed on March 6 to add depth, and rookies Johan Yan and Coty Woods have pitched well.
Throw in the other spring contenders -- along with the eventual returns of relievers Joakim Soria and Neftali Feliz, as well as the possibility of Robbie Ross returning to the pen if he isn't named the fifth starter or only holds it for a short time -- and the bullpen could become quite competitive.
RHP Kyle McClellan (strained lat muscle) is not expected to resume a throwing program for 3-4 weeks.
RHP Colby Lewis (surgery -- torn flexor tendon) and Joakim Soria (Tommy John surgery) each threw a bullpen session on Friday.
C Eli Whiteside (mild left calf strain) has resumed baseball activities and is listed as day-to-day.
LHP Martin Perez (fractured left ulna) is not expected to resume a throwing program for approximately four weeks.
Other team notes:
In Sunday's other split-squad game, the Rangers will close out a two-game series against the Chicago Cubs at Cashman Field in Las Vegas at 3:05 p.m. CT. LHP Robbie Ross (1-0, 3.86) will start for Texas. RHP Carlos Villanueva (0-1, 5.87) takes the mound for Chicago. The game can be seen live on Fox Sports Southwest.
Both Sunday split-squad games are considered road games. Texas is 4-1-1 in its past six road games.
Special Assistant to the GM/Instructor/Ambassador Ivan Rodriguez has arrived in camp and will be in uniform in Arizona for the next week.
Minor leaguer Luis Sardinas committed a fielding error yesterday, ending the Rangers' errorless streak at eight games.
LHP Derek Holland is expected to return to Rangers camp today after Team USA was eliminated from the World Baseball Classic on Friday. Holland was recently bothered by a stomach ailment, which is believed to have been food poisoning. He was examined by the Team USA doctor and will be examined by Rangers team doctor David S. Hunter when he returns from the Las Vegas trip. Holland reported he feels better and will throw a bullpen today. He is scheduled to pitch in a minor league game on Tuesday.
Texas has carried extra players in its major league camp due to the World Baseball Classic and the pair of split-squad games this weekend. However, that roster is expected to be trimmed after today's games as fewer players will be needed and due to natural attrition as only two weeks remain in spring training.
Jeff Baker currently leads the major leagues in the spring with a .500 batting average (20 for 40).
DH Lance Berkman is the only presumed everyday regular-season starter who is in today's starting lineup.
Today's game in Peoria marks the third and final time Texas plays Seattle this spring. The Mariners won both previous matchups.
The Las Vegas game between Texas and the Cubs is the third of four games the teams will play this spring. They will wrap up the four-game series on Tuesday in Mesa.