SURPRISE, Ariz.--The number of candidates for the Rangers No. 5 starter job was reduced by two Friday morning, as RHP Justin Grimm was optioned to Round Rock (AAA) and RHP Randy Wells was reassigned to minor league camp.
That leaves Friday's starter Nick Tepesch, as the last official in-house candidate remaining. The rookie right-hander is scheduled to throw six innings with a 90-pitch limit against the Colorado Rockies at Surprise Stadium.
While no one is saying it out loud, today's outing will go a long way in determining if Tepesch can be the final man in the starting rotation when spring training breaks.
"I'm not talking about the No. 5 starter yet until I am ready to announce it," manager Ron Washington said. "He (Tepesch) is still fighting for the No. 5 but that is all I'll say."
The ascension of Tepesch this spring has been one of the feel-good underdog stories of camp. The 24-year old was initially seen as a dark horse for this slot as he entered his first major league training camp as a non-roster invitee and little was known about him. All he has done is pitch well, showing poise beyond his experience.
With another strong outing Friday, he will greatly improve his chances to go from unknown to major league pitcher.
"I'm just trying to go about my business everyday and learn as much as I can," Tepesch said. "I feel like it's been a good camp so far."
In four spring outings, Tepesch has allowed five earned runs in 13 innings with 10 strikeouts. He was stingy during his first three appearances but gave up three runs in five innings in his last start Sunday against the Cubs in Las Vegas.
"I felt strong last time, throwing five and my body felt strong afterwards," Tepesch said. "I even felt like I could have gone a few more."
In the meantime, the Rangers will continue to stretch out Derek Lowe. The 39-year old, who was signed as a free agent to a minor-league deal March 6, is not being called an official candidate but is being used as such.
Lowe gave up six runs in 3.2 innings Thursday night, after trying to pitch four innings on two-days rest. He was sharp in the first three innings before wearing down. Washington said they hope to get six out of Lowe when he makes his next start.
"We have time to continue to stretch him out," Washington said. "That is our intention. He is on an accelerated program. Because of his experience, he is handling that accelerated program pretty good."
The Rangers haven't ruled out looking outside the organization for their answer at the No. 5 slot either.
"There's always a chance," Washington said. "We are always looking."
Grimm showed improvement in his last two appearances but was hit very hard in his first two outings. He said a renewed mental approach after those two outings led to his improvement. The 24-year old will have a chance to continue to show what he can do with Round Rock.
"He will get another opportunity at the major league level," Washington said. "Initially, most young guys haven't had enough baseball background to trust (themselves) so they try to go out and prove they can do something and sometimes you realize it too late that isn't the approach to take."
Wells struggled throughout camp with putting too many men on base. He oftentimes pitched out of jams but never got into a sustained rhythm. He'll remain in the organization with Round Rock and provide depth in the rotation.
With a little more than a week remaining in camp, the Rangers have four pitching slots to identify, the final rotation slot and three in the bullpen. Washington said by the end of camp, by any means necessary, those slots will be filled by the end of spring training.
"We are going to leave here with those four guys, you just wish someone would step it up and make it easier," Washington said. "But we are going to leave here with those four guys whether it be from outside or whether the four guys are inside, but we are going to leave with that staff totally filled. We are going to keep playing everyday and hopefully someone will take the lead."
After this morning's moves, the Rangers spring training roster is at 43 players.
Other team notes:
The Rangers announced today that Robbie Parker will throw the ceremonial first pitch prior to the team's home opener Friday, April 5 against the Angels. Parker is the father of six-year old Emilie Parker, who was killed in the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December. Mr. Parker grew up in North Texas and will be accompanied by his wife and two daughters. Parker is a long-time Texas Rangers fan and took Emilie to several Rangers games in Arlington, Seattle and Boston.
Four Texas pitchers in major league camp will pitch in a minor league game tonight: LHP Michael Kirkman for Round Rock (AAA), RHP Josh Lindblom, RHP Coty Woods and RHP Johan Yan will all pitch for Frisco (AA).
Today marks the last of two meetings between Texas and Colorado. The Rangers lost the first meeting, 9-1, at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale.