Tommy Hunter suffers groin strain

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Just hours after he was named to the starting rotation for the Texas Rangers, pitcher Tommy Hunter had to leave Thursday's spring training game in the third inning with a right groin strain.

Hunter was clearly bothered after throwing his fourth pitch to Cincinnati Reds outfielder Drew Stubbs. Rangers manager Ron Washington, pitching coach Mike Maddux and assistant athletic trainer Kevin Harmon trotted to the mound.

"It doesn't feel very pleasant," a clearly frustrated Hunter said. "It's bearable. I think I'll be all right. Three days ... I had three days to go. It's all right. We'll get back together and go throw."

Hunter -- who was named to the rotation along with C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison and Derek Holland earlier Thursday -- walked off and will be examined by team physician Dr. Keith Meister in Surprise to determine the severity of the injury.

"I hope not," Hunter said when asked if he'd miss any regular-season games. "I really hope not."

Last year, Hunter suffered an oblique strain late in spring training and didn't start until June. In 2009, he suffered a groin injury and wasn't recalled from Triple-A until late May.

He finished 2010 with a 13-4 record and a 3.73 ERA in 128 innings.

This spring, Hunter has struggled. He allowed five runs on six hits in two-plus innings on Thursday before the injury, which lifted his ERA to 10.97 this spring.

Should the injury keep Hunter from starting the season in the rotation, the logical pitcher to replace him is Michael Kirkman, who was optioned to Triple-A Round Rock on Thursday morning.

Kirkman, who pitched in the Rangers' bullpen late in 2011, is 0-1 with a 5.56 ERA in Cactus League games, but was pleased with his most recent start in a minor league game earlier this week. The Rangers could also give Dave Bush an opportunity. Bush and Brett Tomko are vying for the long relief role on the team.

The Rangers also announced Thursday that Neftali Feliz will go back to being the closer after getting a long look as a starter this spring.

Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.